World Immunization Week 2023: Somalia resolves to work on “The Big Catch-Up”
MOGADISHU, 24 April 2023 – The Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) observed World Immunization Week (WIW) under the global theme of “The Big Catch-Up” with a resolve to strengthen primary healthcare and routine immunization across the country and ensure that no one is left behind.
World Immunization Week (WIW) 2023 is being observed during the global COVID-19 pandemic and hence it has been given the theme of ‘The Big Catch-Up’. WIW was initially endorsed in May 2012 by the World Health Assembly (WHO's decision-making body) and the first World Immunization Week was observed the same year across 180 member states of WHO.
The Federal Minister for Health Dr. Ali Haji, on this occasion expressed gratitude to the WHO and UNICEF for coordinating and collaborating with multiple partners and helping his government to catch up on lost progress in essential immunization, as a result of the global pandemic. Acknowledging the worst-ever drought gripping the country, resulting in huge population displacements and outbreaks of diseases, Dr. Haji hoped that “in line with the theme of the year “The Big Catch-Up,” WHO and UNICEF will continue to support the Ministry of Health for building a strong immunization delivery system, sustain the progress made over the past few years in preventing a backslide of childhood immunization in the country and more importantly accelerate the campaign of “The Big Catch Up” to get back on track to ensure more people, particularly children, are vaccinated and protected from preventable diseases.”
As per UNICEF and WHO estimates, routine immunization coverage in Somalia is low compared to other countries, and it is further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Health in collaboration with WHO and UNICEF has made progress during 2022 to bridge these yawning gaps in immunization by scaling up its efforts to strengthen routine immunization across the country.
WHO Representative to Somalia, Dr Mamunur Rahman Malik, while referring to the setbacks caused by global pandemic to routine immunization in Somalia, said that “thousands of under five children have missed routine immunization during the past three years. The pandemic has disrupted the essential immunization services in the country. We may anticipate a backslide of over 20 per cent in routine immunization coverage unless we are able to rapidly catch up on lost progress.” He further said that “WHO in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, is planning for a “Big Catch-Up” by developing an immunization recovery plan to catch up on all those children who have missed out on their routine immunization in past 3 years, including all the women of childbearing age and adults. This is our chance to restore the immunization coverage to pre pandemic level and by working together with our partners, we can do it.”
The FMoH, WHO and UNICEF during 2022 have jointly implemented 4 rounds of accelerated immunization activities, five polio campaigns, eight campaigns for COVID-19, and nationwide integrated measles, tOPV, vitamin A and deworming campaigns. Additionally, WHO deployed more than 2,100 community health workers (CHWs) while UNICEF has deployed over 6,000 social mobilizers across the country to disseminate health messages to over 4.5 million people, as well as track and help immunize children who missed out on immunization. The community health workers have been working to find, register and refer the missed-out children and pregnant women to nearby health facilities and outreach sessions.
“UNICEF supports health systems for increasing routine immunization and integrated health and nutrition services for the children in Somalia, especially where coverage is low in hard-to-reach areas,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative, Nejmudin Kedir Bilal. “We are committed to continuing to support the Ministry of Health to generate more demand and acceptance of vaccines by the communities; to strengthen supply chain management system for vaccines and supplies; and to revamp management information system to track zero-dose children.”
The joint efforts made by the FMoH, WHO and UNICEF during the last integrated campaign helped to vaccinate more than 3.2 million under-five children against measles and 3.5 million against polio. During 2022, immunization programmes also identified and vaccinated over 84,500 zero-dose children and vaccinated around 30,000 women of child-bearing age with tetanus-diphtheria toxoids (Td2) by deploying integrated outreach teams. Somalia also managed to achieve the milestone of fully vaccinating over 41.7 per cent of the adult population against COVID-19 in 2022.
Note to Editors:
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a widespread decline in childhood vaccinations has occurred globally, putting millions of additional children at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases. The continued decline in vaccination coverage since then was likely a result of many factors, including strained health systems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the primary focus being on the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. These stresses have led to challenges with supply chains, human resources, and financing. Increasing vaccine misinformation, disinformation and hesitancy also likely contributed to declines in some countries. The risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks is likely to persist if urgent action is not taken to recover immunization program losses, especially in countries like Somalia, where the health sector is under immense stress of dealing with multiple outbreaks of measles, cholera and cVDPV2.
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UNICEF has been working in Somalia since 1972 when its first office opened in Mogadishu. Today UNICEF has over 300 staff working in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Dollow, Garowe, Hargeisa and also Nairobi, Kenya. Together with 200 international and national NGOs and community-based organizations, UNICEF delivers services in Health, Nutrition, WASH, Education and Child Protection, and responds to emergencies and supports peace-building and development.