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Measles vaccination campaign reaches the most vulnerable children affected by drought

UNICEF Somalia/2018/Kun Li
© UNICEF Somalia/2018/Kun Li
Muna, 6, is vaccinated against measles at the vaccination post in Bay Regional Hospital in Baidoa, Bay Region. She came with three of her sisters, accompanied by their mother.

7 June 2018 - One by one, four sisters — Naima, 7; Muna, 6; Sumaya, 3; and Rahma, 2 — walked up to the vaccinator, keeping their fear in check. In just a matter of seconds, each got a jab in the arm, and drops of vitamin A squeezed from a red capsule into their mouth. Their mother, Fatima Adan, stood nearby and received each of them with a gentle hug or a pat on the head as though to say, “You did well”.

The sisters are among the 2.7 million children aged 6 months to 10 years taking part in the latest measles vaccination campaign that kicked off on 11 March in central and southern regions of Somalia. Similar campaigns were also conducted in the northern parts of the country, bringing the total number of children who will be vaccinated in this campaign to 4.7 million.

Shortly after the four sisters, Hawa Ali arrived with her son Abdi, 6, at this vaccination post in Bay Regional Hospital in Baidoa, Bay region. They came from a rural area some 70 kilometres away from Baidoa. Suffering from severe acute malnutrition, Abdi was visibly emaciated and too weak to walk. Hawa carried him from the hospital’s stabilization centre, where he was being treated.

"I was busy working in the farm and didn't have time to bring him to the hospital," explained Hawa about her son's condition. "I was waiting for him to become better, but he didn't."

On the outskirts of Baidoa, that sight of makeshift camps for displaced families has replaced that of the once empty landscape. Dome-shaped huts made of branches and covered with cloths, plastic sheets and cardboard stretch as far as the eye can see. 

UNICEF Somalia/2018/Kun Li
© UNICEF Somalia/2018/Kun Li
Abdi, 6, is administered vitamin A. Abdi is suffering from severe acute malnutrition and is being treated at Bay Regional Hospital’s stabilization centre.

In Kobondhere 2 camp, the curious gaze of little Zakaria Ibrahim, 8 months, met the syringe held up straight in the vaccinator’s hand. Before he had the time to process what might happen next, quick hands took his arm and injected him with the vaccine. Zakaria frowned and was about to howl out his discontent. Seeing this, his mother, Hamida Haji, held him tightly against her chest to breastfeed him.

Hamida, her husband and their six children have been living here for the past nine months. "We left our home because of hunger and conflict. All of our crops failed and our animals died," said Hamid. She now tries to make a living by selling firewood, and from time to time, the family is helped by kind neighbours. "I want to go back, but I can't. We have nothing left.”

Hamid’s story was echoed by many mothers who came to get their children vaccinated. Somalia’s drought didn’t just instigate displacement; it triggered massive disease outbreaks, including measles. In 2017, more than 23,000 measles cases were reported, six times the number the previous year and 80 per cent of the cases were among children. Since the beginning of 2018, another 2,800 cases have appeared and Bay is among the most affected regions.

By now Baidoa has received some 270,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), outnumbering the host community. The flow of IDPs is still increasing. To contain disease outbreaks, large-scale vaccination campaigns are an absolute must.

“In 2017, we vaccinated 60,000 children against measles, particularly those in IDP camps,” said Isaak Mursal, Director General of the Ministry of Health for South West State, with Baidoa as the capital. “That helped us a lot in curbing the outbreak. However, the situation is still grave. Our drought response needs to be sustained, and vaccination campaigns like this is a critical part of the response to help us save the lives of the most vulnerable children and their families.” 

 

 
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