One ‘zero-dose’ child is vaccinated—but there’s a million more to go
From village health workers going door-to-door, to investing in solar-powered fridges, and imams encouraging vaccination through their sermons, BARMM is reducing its number of ‘zero-dose’ children
The Philippines ranks fifth globally among countries with the highest number of unvaccinated children, with one million children across the country who have not received a single childhood vaccine. Within the country, 60% of ‘zero-dose’ children live in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
One of those ‘zero-dose’ babies is 13-month-old Jonaila who was born in August 2021. “When I gave birth during the pandemic, people here helped me during labor. As soon as I saw my baby, I felt happy, I immediately felt like I was a mother,” says Jamila.
Jamila explains how: “Because my baby was born at home, she doesn’t have a birth certificate. I haven't taken her to the health center because I was worried that the nurses would scold me for not vaccinating her.”
“Also, because I am 7 months pregnant with my second child, I’m discouraged from going to the health center as I’ll have to walk in the heat, which is very tiring, or pay 50 PHP (approx $0.85 USD) for a tricycle each way, which I can’t afford.”
Jamila also began to question the necessity of vaccines, because Jonaila has remained unvaccinated up until this point and, thankfully, has not experienced any health issues.
Evelyn Saro, midwife and manager of the Marantao Rural Health Center, says: “This is a challenge to us, when we encounter parents who think that vaccination is not necessary. We say, ‘yes, they’re healthy now, but that’s because the illness hasn’t arrived yet’.”
Thanks to village health workers taking the time share the information that Jamila needed to make an informed decision about vaccination, she has decided to take Jonaila to the health center to catch up on the immunizations she has missed.
A well-connected response
Village health workers, who bring essential services to families like Jonaila’s, are part of a truly multisectoral team responding to the need. This involves the central coordination and strategy role of the provincial health team; religious leaders; police trucks for transporting vaccines over rocky and other challenging terrain; and non-governmental organizations, including UNICEF.
It’s a Wednesday, which means rural health centers across the region are providing routine childhood vaccinations and check-ups. It’s busy, with around seven caregivers and babies waiting for services at any one time.
Jamila is among the parents waiting. Until today, Jonaila had missed out on five recommended childhood vaccinations, which in total are designed to protect her against 12 diseases.
Jonaila is registered, receives a full check-up and catches up on all of her immunizations.
Back home, Jonaila is quickly back to her usual self, laughing and playing with other children. Jamila can now relax, knowing that her child is protected against preventable, potentially life-threatening illnesses. Jonaila is one in a million—both to her proud mother, and to the health workers striving to reach every unvaccinated child.