Reaching the unreachable in Tapini

Locals support efforts to increase routine immunization coverage for children under 1.

UNICEF Papua New Guinea
Mamoi and her youngest son, Paul who has not received any vaccination since birth.
UNICEF/UN0627241/Chambers
07 November 2021

Seven of Maria Mamoi’s eight children have not been vaccinated against any child hood diseases since they were born. 

But today, her last child, Paul, whose age she is unable to confirm but looks to be less than four months is being vaccinated against five childhood diseases.

“My first son is the only one who received his vaccinations because I gave birth to him in the hospital. I delivered the rest of my children at home because I couldn’t afford the K20 hospital bed and clinic book fees. All of them are healthy so I don’t see the need to vaccinate them,” Maria explains in tok pisin.

A health team visiting Tapini, a remote and isolated community in the Goilala District, Central Province discovered that Maria’s youngest son, Paul had not been vaccinated since birth when Maria stepped forward to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Health team comprising workers from UNICEF, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Catholic Health Services and the Central Provincial Health Authority, are in Tapini to support the Tapini District Health Facility COVID-19 vaccination and routine immunization efforts.

Judith Ame (right), a health worker with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, explains the importance of vaccination to Maria.
UNICEF/UN0627243/Chambers
Judith Ame (right), a health worker with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, explains the importance of vaccination to Maria.

After explaining the importance and benefit of routine immunization for babies, Maria agrees for her son to receive the vaccinations he missed out on since birth.

“I decided to get the COVID-19 vaccination after this health team explained that people with underlying health conditions could get really sick and even die if they were not vaccinated. I was a TB patient before and I’m worried so I decided to get the shot to protect myself and my children,” says Maria.

“But now I’m told my baby needs to get the baby injections that he did not get after he was born. They are telling me to bring Paul to the clinic next Wednesday so I will bring him to see the health worker.”

Maria admits that ensuring her children are fully immunized is not her priority even though she lives close by to the Tapini District Health Centre. She’d rather spend her time selling fresh vegetables at the Tapini market to make a little bit of money to meet her family’s needs. She says many mothers feel the same way she does and won’t take their children to the clinic unless they are very sick.

Community Health Worker, Michael Kenava speaks to market vendors about the importance of routine immunization for children.
UNICEF/UN0627242/Chambers
Community Health Worker, Michael Kenava speaks to market vendors about the importance of routine immunization for children.

The immunization coverage for children under one year in Goilala District is the lowest in the country at nine percent for Penta 3 (a vaccine that protects against 5 childhood diseases). Many factors contribute to this low coverage. There are no roads or commercial flights linking Tapini to the capital city, Port Moresby. Random charter flights are expensive and unaffordable. Public servants including health workers seem to have abandoned their posts in Tapini for an easier life in Port Moresby, leaving Community Health Worker, Linus Amai to manage the health facility on his own.

It is difficult for him to provide outreach clinics that would help improve coverage and reach children in hard-to-reach areas.

Local leaders, Chief James Komae (left) and Emmanuel Kaita are concerned about low immunization rates in Tapini.
UNICEF/UN0627240/Chambers
Local leaders, Chief James Komae (left) and Emmanuel Kaita are concerned about low immunization rates in Tapini.

Local leaders led by James Komae, Chief and Chairman of the Law and Order Committee in Tapini recognize the implications of unvaccinated children and have stepped in to help address the issue. They have committed to set up a health committee that will involve leaders, youth and health workers across the District to promote social mobilization and community engagement activities.

Community Health Workers Michael Kenava and his wife, Bensilla Trehambu who manage a health facility in the neighboring Tororo community say they will help Linus and work with the local leaders to set up the network.

UNICEF, in partnership with the CHAI, the Catholic Health Services and the Central Provincial Health Authority is supporting this drive to achieve a targeted 80 percent coverage of at least one dose three of vaccines that help prevent pneumonia, polio and measles rubella in children who have never been vaccinated.

Just a couple of days ago, a new solar powered vaccine fridge provided by UNICEF was installed at the Tapini District Health Facility to support the cold chain capacity for routine immunization.

The new fridge is a welcome addition to the clinic as it replaces the old electric fridge. It will help boost the storage capacity and maintenance of routine and COVID-19 vaccines for two health facilities in Tapini and Tororo and will ensure that routine immunization activities continue without interruptions.

With the help of the Health Committee when it is established and an improved cold chain, health workers will be able to provide outreach clinics in 12 sites across the Tapini catchment area and Goilala District to reach mothers like Maria who can’t find the time to bring their children to health clinics for immunization as well as families who live too far away and are unable to receive immunization services from clinics.