Q&A: A UNICEF health officer works to ensure that all children in Sudan are protected from diseases
As a young man Mutwali Adam became a believer in the importance of immunizations while volunteering to support his conflict-affected community in Darfur, today he dedicates his life to advocating for the importance of childhood vaccinations.
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Mutwali Adam is a health program officer based in Damazine, Blue Nile State where he focuses on ensuring that children are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases – especially amongst the most vulnerable populations in hard-to-reach areas.
UNICEF Sudan talked to him about his motivation to help his community and what he hopes to one day happen in Sudan.
What influenced you to become an immunization professional?
When I was in secondary school, I witnessed several outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. I still remember when an outbreak of meningitis badly impacted my hometown Kutum, which is in Darfur state. I would volunteer in the vaccination campaigns conducted in response to these outbreaks. Vaccination campaigns brought about drastic changes in the disease trend helping to control the outbreak.
Since that time I used to take part in national immunization days with the same spirit. After enrollment in medical school, my hometown became one of the battlegrounds of the war in Darfur. The main hospital was attacked, and most doctors and other medical staff fled the city. At that time, the universities were put on-hold, therefore, I volunteered to support my hometown health needs, and together with available health staff and other volunteers, we started delivering basic lifesaving interventions including basic health services, particularly EPI (expanded programme on immunization) to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities in Kutum valley and other gathering areas. I continued to do so until the Ministry of health and humanitarian actors managed to get access to the town. I later joined them during challenging times has greatly contributed to preventing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and has influenced me to have faith in immunization.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
To see smiles on mothers' faces and filled with joy after receiving or completing their child’s vaccination. It is also rewarding to see that they have developed the enthusiasm to deliver positive immunization messages to their peers and community when they return.
What is a lasting change you hope to see in your immunization program?
To see integrated EPI across all of Sudan. Every health care provider and community member can be an ambassador on immunization. I want to see the importance of immunization integrated into the community daily life and at all levels of health provisions; eventually community ownership, involvement and inclusiveness.
I believe that community involvement and education, especially among the most vulnerable, is especially important. Embracing the community from the start of the vaccination interventions will improve community ownership and give the community space to participate and contribute.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
From 2010 to 2012 I was part of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team that led and made breakthroughs to previously inaccessible areas that had lacked immunization and basic services for a very long time due to conflict. We managed to open a corridor for humanitarian actors and providing immunization services to inaccessible areas in the conflict zone. At the same time, we were dealing with a yellow fever outbreak in insecure areas. We managed to deliver outbreak control interventions including yellow fever vaccination for two states in the Darfur region. Also, in 2019 as the UNICEF focal person I was in charge of field team and with the support of the country team and field team managed to conduct an oral cholera vaccination campaign covering over 1.5 million people all across Sudan.
In your opinion, what is the largest challenge that immunization workers in Sudan will face in the next ten years?
How to best use the advancing technologies for the benefit of immunization both in terms of quality and quantity and dealing with emerging diseases such as COVID-19. This requires us to think out of the box. I think we need to be adaptable and flexible to handle any emerging challenge.
Who is your role model, and why?
I admire the frontline immunization providers, including volunteers, who exerted a lot of effort to reach vulnerable people with scarce and limited resources. I also admire mothers, who in very difficult circumstances, bring their children to get vaccinated and protected. I learned a lot from them not giving up when you have an honorable cause.
From my childhood, my father, who sacrificed his life for the family and community he teaches us the most valuable things in our lives to love humanity and accept and embrace diversity. He was working as a mechanic and electric technician in charge of the city electricity, it was great to recall that he was prioritizing the EPI cold chain over other parts of the city. He and my mother did their best not to miss vaccinating any one of my siblings.
With thanks to our partners and donors Gavi the vaccine alliance, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA/USAID), German Cooperation, the government of Japan, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the International Coordinating Group for their generous support of UNICEF’s vaccination activities in Sudan.