Protecting children and mothers from vaccine preventable diseases
Through the timely distribution of vaccines and a strengthened cold chain system
Mongar, Bhutan - For Tshering Penjor, a father of three, getting his children vaccinated is a responsibility he takes seriously. An ambulance driver at Ngatshang Primary Health Care (PHC) facility in far eastern district of Mongar, Tshering is aware of the critical role vaccines play in saving lives. He diligently brings his youngest child for routine immunization for he has understood the role it would play in his child’s development.
“Working in a health facility has made me aware about the critical role routine immunization plays in preventing diseases among children and I made sure all my three children are immunized,” said Tshering. “Routine immunization is a necessity to ensure the healthy growth and development of children.”
Tshering is among the many parents in communities of Mongar and across Bhutan who understand the need to protect children with live saving vaccines.
A mother to a year-old boy, Tshewang Choden said she has not missed any vaccine for her child “I am grateful for the immunization services that my child gets otherwise we would not be able to afford these vaccines if not for the support rendered by the government and donors.”
Tshering and Tshewang’s children are among the 50,000 children who were immunized against vaccine preventable diseases across Bhutan in 2022. UNICEF works with the Ministry of Health to ensure all children and mothers are protected with life saving vaccines and a strengthened cold chain system.
Health Assistant at Ngatshang PHC in Mongar, Tashi Choejay, who has been a health worker for 24 years said health workers play a catalytic role in improving compliance of parents to avail timely immunization for their children.
“Creating awareness on the importance of routine immunization by keeping the parents informed on the kind and purpose of vaccine administered has contributed to high compliance among parents in Ngatshang,” he said
In the nearby village of Ridaza, Karma Dema, a mother of four is an active advocate of immunization and urges fellow parents in her community to take their children for routine immunization.
“I do my best to explain to them the importance of vaccines and help clarify their fears and misconception regarding their babies not being able to bear the pain from injectable vaccines,” said Karma.
The increased awareness and understanding on the importance of immunization has resulted in the district recording a decline in the cases of vaccine preventable diseases.
Pema Dendup a health assistant at Mongar Regional Referral hospital has worked at the Mother and Child Health (MCH) section for over two decades.
“Parents in Mongar take the responsibility of meeting the assigned schedule for immunization and are aware of the significance of the vaccines,” he said. “As a service provider, it gives me a great sense of pride in knowing that the immunization services we provide are contributing towards saving lives of mothers and children in Bhutan.”
To sustain the high immunization coverage in Bhutan, investing in improving the availability of vaccines and cold chain equipment is integral. Extended Programme on Immunization (EPI) manager at the Department of Public Health, Tashi Dawa said cold chain is the backbone of immunization.
“An enhanced cold chain system along with enhanced capacity of health workers in vaccine management system would guarantee the delivery of potent vaccines to children which would in turn help protect them from vaccine preventable diseases,” he said. “We expect to report a reduction in the cases of vaccine preventable diseases especially for under 5 children and we are confident we will achieve that with the help of the high-end cold chain equipment that has been procured for all health facilities.”
A robust immunization programme and skilled health workers are among the several reasons why mothers like Phuntsho Wangmo advocate vaccination for all mothers and children.
“Having completed the routine immunization for my younger son today just as I have done for my elder one, I now feel that I have shouldered my responsibilities as a mother well,” said the mother of two and a teacher in. “I encourage all parents to strictly get their children immunized so that their physical, mental and social wellbeing not compromised later.”