In Mali, living on a gold mine comes at the expense of healthcare
Mobile vaccinators are a lifeline for children in remote mining communities.
KAYES, Mali – Ramata does not know how old she is. But she knows that she has been working in Massakama gold mine, in western Mali, for the past three years. With her 11-month-old baby, Hachime, wrapped to her back, Ramata spends her days stooped over in the mud, looking for gold in the scorching heat.
Known as a “goldsmith woman”, Ramata lives right on the gold mine site where she works, together with her husband Mamadou and their five children.
''Every day, I come here at six in the morning, after cooking breakfast for my children. They don’t go to school, they all come here with me. The older ones take care of the little ones while I'm sifting through the river mud, looking for gold pieces."
In search of a better future
Ramata and her family are among the thousands of people who live and work on the Massakama gold mine every day. "My husband was not working and it was hard for us to ensure food for our children,” she says. “We decided to go for gold, like many others in our village. We were told that the gold mine in Massakama is among the best, that we are more likely to find gold here. So, we moved without hesitation.”
But living on the mines can take a toll on children. When families move to the mining sites, children often drop out of school, and are deprived of access to basic healthcare or protection services.
"It is the lack of means and poverty that leads those families to leave their villages,” explains Dr. Konate, an immunization officer at UNICEF. “But once they get to the mines they become even more vulnerable, with no basic services at their disposal ─ such as healthcare.”
Vaccines save lives
In this part of Mali, where the local economy is dominated by gold mining, the rates of unvaccinated children are some of the highest in all of Mali. Only 41 per cent of children receive all the vaccines they need to stay healthy.
Ramata’s son Hachime is among the many children in the region who need healthcare.
"In addition to not being vaccinated, Hachime is visibly stunted [which means his brain and body aren’t developing fully],” says Dr. Konate. “Today we are giving him the polio vaccine. Next week, we will send community health workers to assess next steps, including how quickly to administer all the vaccine doses he needs.”
Dr. Konate is visiting the site as part of a larger strategy by UNICEF and partners to send mobile vaccinators to the most remote and vulnerable children. UNICEF also supports community health workers with the equipment and knowledge they need to provide vital services to families in isolated communities.
“The biggest treasure of all was being able to vaccinate my child.”
Healthy children, better lives
Ramata is visibly happy to have been able to vaccinate Hachime. She felt apprehensive ever since measles cases sprang up in her community. ''I once saw a friend's son suffer the after-effects of measles. The mother almost lost her child,” recalls Ramata. “I am really happy to see that today vaccinators come find us on the gold mine sites to vaccinate our children. This was unimaginable just 10 years ago. We are very lucky," she says.
The sun is setting and Ramata is getting ready to go home with her children. Her day was average: she found two gold nuggets. However, she has a reason to smile: "Today I found a little gold,” she says, “But the biggest treasure of all was being able to vaccinate my child.”
UNICEF works closely with the Ministry of Health; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the World Health Organization to provide life-saving vaccines against polio, measles and tetanus to children and women in Mali. UNICEF and its partners are targeting 11 districts with the largest number of unvaccinated children, including in the Kayes region. In 2018, UNICEF worked with partners to vaccinate over 700,000 children against measles in Mali.