Hela’s Journey to Protect its Children
Supplementary Immunization Activity in Papua New Guinea
TARI, HELA PROVINCE, 08 May 2023, In the picturesque province of Hela, nestled within the heart of a country facing numerous challenges, a remarkable story of resilience and determination unfolds: a province's struggle to protect their vulnerable children.
Due to persistently low immunization coverage in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Hela province was faced with an alarming situation. COVID-19 had impacted routine immunisation in the past couple of years so a scheduled national 2023 Measles-Rubella, Polio and Vitamin A (MR-OPV-Vit A) Supplementary Immunization Activity (SIA) was an important intervention to boost coverage.
On May 08, 2023, just two days after the MR-OPV-VIT A training for officers in charge (OICs) and District Health Managers in Tari, diligent nurses noticed something deeply concerning. They encountered several children under the age of five displaying symptoms reminiscent of measles in various locations throughout the province.
These children appeared dazed and listless, their bodies covered in blotchy skin rashes. They coughed incessantly, their eyes red and teary. When questioned about their immunization history, their mothers shared a heartbreaking answer. “No.”
Recognizing the possibility of an impending measles outbreak, the Hela Provincial Health Authority (PHA) sprang into action. A team of experienced health experts swiftly descended upon the province and collected 10 samples for testing to confirm the disease.
At that moment, Hela had only just begun rolling out activities to raise awareness and mobilize communities for the 2023 MR OPV Vit A SIA. Unfortunately, the urgency to protect the population became even more critical before they could reach everyone.
After careful testing, one of the samples confirmed the presence of measles. With the threat of a large-scale outbreak looming, the Hela PHA wasted no time to contain the situation. Dedicated vaccination teams were promptly deployed to every corner of the province and in exactly 5 days, the campaign was executed successfully with a total of 5,723 children vaccinated.
“The SIA was very timely as Hela would have experienced a large measles outbreak following the index case revealed on 08 May 2023,” says Robert Wakinda, Provincial Emergency Operations Centre Lead, Hela PHA.
Thanks to the unwavering commitment of Hela PHA, the National Department of Health, WHO and UNICEF – not forgetting the tireless efforts of healthcare workers, what could have been a devastating outbreak was averted. The province came together, rising above adversity to protect its children and secure a healthier future for all.
Hela’s battle with measles serves as a powerful reminder of the collective strength found in unity and the indomitable spirit of a community that refused to surrender to the challenges it faced.