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Historic vaccine to save children's lives launched in Somalia

2013 Gedi
© 2013 Gedi
The Somali Minister for Human Development and Public Services vaccinates a baby with the Pentavalent vaccine at the launch ceremony on 24 April 2013 at the Presidential Palace (Villa Somalia) Mogadishu watched by the Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

   By Susannah Price

25 April 2013 - Six month old Abdul Wahab sleeps peacefully in his mother’s arms, unaware that that he has just become one of the first children in Somalia to be injected with the ground breaking, five- in- one Pentavalent vaccine, greatly increasing his chances of surviving until his fifth birthday.
However he was only brought to the Medina Mother and Child Health Centre (MCH) in Mogadishu because his four elder siblings, who had  not been vaccinated against any diseases, all caught measles.
“After the older children fell sick,  I came to hear about vaccinations, “ said his mother Amina Aden. “Now I know that this boy, my last born, should have all the vaccinations to protect him.”
The new Pentavalent vaccine, was launched by in Somalia on Wednesday, supported by  UNICEF, WHO and GAVI. The vaccine brings together five vaccinations in a single shot and offers Somali children protection against Hib (Haemophilus Influenza type b), the bacteria that can cause pneumonia and meningitis, and against Hepatitis B, a serious liver disease, for the first time ever. The vaccine also  offers protection against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus previously available  in the form of the DPT vaccine.
The vaccine was launched at colourful ceremonies in Mogadishu, Hargeisa (Somaliland) and Garowe (Puntland) . More than 1.3 million Pentavalent vaccines, will be available to Somali children this year. Each child will require three doses before their first birthday. 

UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a groundbreaking new vaccine launched in Somalia.

The Minister for Human Development and Public Services, Dr Maryan Qasim, told guests at the launch at Villa Somalia, the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu, that  Somalia has the second highest infant mortality rate in the world with nearly one in ten children dying before their fifth birthday. She called the introduction of the vaccine ‘historic’.
“As a Government we can not rest until we reach all Somali children,” she said. “We are committed to reach every child in every corner of the country.”
The UNICEF Somalia Representative Sikander Khan said he sincerely believed the new vaccine would make a difference, especially as pneumonia is one of the main causes of deaths for children in Somalia.
“Even one preventable death is one too many. And that is why we are here today,” said Mr Khan. “This breaks the cycle of unnecessary deaths in Somalia.”

His sentiments were echoed by Anne Cronin of the GAVI Alliance who said it was important that all children in Somalia had access to Pentavalent.

The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, told the invited audience that one of the Government’s main priorities was the improvement of the health of mothers and children.
‘The Somali child must get clean water and vaccinations – everything his rich counterpart elsewhere receives,” said the President. “UNICEF, WHO and GAVI have been with Somalia for more than 20 years and have lost staff and property and faced threats and challenges to save Somali lives.  On behalf of the Somali people and on my own behalf I would like to say thank you very much.”

© UNICEF Somalia/2013/Holt
Puntland President, Dr. Abdiraham Mohamed Farole delivers a speech during the launch of the Pentavalent vaccine in a ceremony at the regional capital, Garowe.

In the north eastern region of Puntland, where 39,000 children under one year are expected to benefit this year, the President of Puntland, Abdirahman Mohamed  Farole launched the vaccine at the Ministry of Health with a band performing songs about the vaccine. In Somaliland the Vice President oversaw proceedings with  the Minster of Health, Dr Hussein Mahamud Mahamed, administering the first vaccine which is expected to be given to 83,000 children this year.

“We can fight against the child killer diseases with vaccination. As the people have weapons to protect themselves, our body also needs protection, so vaccination can help our children to exist”, said the Puntland President Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud.

In Somaliland the Vice President,  Abdirihman Zeilici oversaw proceedings with the Minister of Health, Dr Hussein Mahamud Mahamed , administering the first vaccine which is expected to be given to 83,000 children this year.

UNICEF Somalia/2013/Swangin
© UNICEF Somalia/2013/Swangin
Somaliland's Minister of Health, Dr Hussein Mahamud Mahamed administers to nine months old Neimat Kassim the Pentavalent during the launch of the vaccine in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

In Somaliland the Vice President,  Abdirihman Zeilici oversaw proceedings with the Minister of Health, Dr Hussein Mahamud Mahamed , administering the first vaccine which is expected to be given to 83,000 children this year .

“The Pentavalent vaccine is expensive. I urge our people to take seriously this golden gift from our donors to protect our children and help save lives”, President Zeilici.

The current vaccination rates in Somalia are very low. The preliminary results for UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey for 2011 (MICS 4) showed that only 7% of children in Somaliland and 3% in Puntland were fully vaccinated against childhood illnesses – and that 43% of children in Somaliland and 65% in Puntland have not received any vaccination at all. The survey was not carried out in Central South Somalia due to security and access problems.
The Pentavalent vaccine is funded by GAVI and co-financed by the Joint Health and Nutrition Programme. Some 1.05 million infants are expected to receive the vaccine for the first time in Somalia from 2013 – 2015.
Dr Lul Mohamed,  Head of Paediatrics at Benadir Hospital in Mogadishu, where current patients include children are seriously ill with preventable diseases such as measles and suspected meningitis,  said the key to success was increasing the coverage of the vaccines.
“We need a strong awareness drive to tell mothers about the importance of the vaccine and to motivate them to come. That also requires a strong commitment from the Government,” she said.
The problem of awareness was clearly illustrated by Sakar Farah who has 12 children. She only brought her son Abdi to the hospital because he had measles and then subsequently found out about vaccinations. None of the other children were vaccinated but she is determined to ensure that Abdi is fully protected.
The WHO Representative in Somalia, Dr Marthe Everard said it was an essential step forward in reducing the under five mortality rate but said it required everyone working closely together including the health authorities, partners and donors.





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Frequently asked questions on PENTAVELENT, HIb and Hepititis B

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