Immunization campaign reaches children at Kenya-Somalia border
Melissa Corkum, UNICEF
LIBOI, Kenya (August 3, 2011) — At first glance, Liboi, a dusty town on the Kenya-Somalia border, provides little cause for hope. Look more closely, however, and you find vaccination teams, including community health workers and village elders, working at full force to deliver lifesaving immunization to children under the age of five.
These children are vulnerable because Liboi and other communities around Dadaab, in north-eastern Kenya, are suffering from a triple shock comprising drought, soaring food prices and a refugee influx from Somalia.
The cattle, goats and other livestock that used to abound in Liboi have been lost to the drought, which has hit the entire Horn of Africa region. Now, the people here want to ensure that their children don't fall victim to diseases such as measles and polio, which often run rampant during times of drought.
Importance of immunization
UNICEF is responding to the crisis in the Horn of Africa, in part, by providing lifesaving vaccines to drought-affected communities such as Liboi. Overall routine immunization coverage in this area remains low, and the risk of disease outbreaks is high. The large influx of refugees from Somalia, where immunization coverage is also low, means that local children are at risk of killer diseases—particularly measles.
Mobilized by their community elder, the mothers and fathers of Liboi bring their children to meet the health teams taking part in the immunization campaign.
Hawa Abdulla, a mother of 10, has brought her youngest son, Ayub, age 3, to receive measles and polio vaccines, vitamin A and de-worming tablets. She knows only too well the importance of immunization. Two of her children have been seriously ill with measles.
"We really need vaccination to protect our children," says Abdulla. She’s afraid that Ayub, too, will fall victim to disease, and she hopes immunization will provide him with a future.
Mohammed, the district coordinator of the vaccination campaign, remains hopeful. A polio survivor himself, he is committed to ensuring that every child under five is immunized. He joins the community health team, traveling from house to house to ensure they haven't missed any child along the way.
The work is tough in the heat and the dust; the distances between houses are far for walking.
"I'm so much committed to this exercise with all my heart and strength, to make sure all children here are immunized," says Mohammed. "I know what a child goes through with polio, the challenges they face... . I've gone through it myself."
A child survival crisis
The effort in Liboi is part of an integrated vaccination campaign targeting 215,000 children under five in host communities in and around Dadaab, a large settlement for Somali refugees in north-eastern Kenya. The country’s Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, UNICEF and the World Health Organization launched the campaign this week.
This initiative, in turn, is part of a regional push to ensure that all children in drought-affected areas are vaccinated against diseases that can be deadly, especially for those who are malnourished.
Communities such as Liboi are facing a child survival crisis. Children don't die just because they don't have enough food. In various stages of malnutrition, they are more prone to sickness and disease. As big a challenge as malnutrition poses, the danger for children extends even further. The vaccination campaign, in Liboi and beyond, is an opportunity to boost their immunity and ensure their survival.
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