MOGADISHU, Somalia (December 3, 2011) — Weaving between makeshift huts of plastic sheeting, health workers urgently knock on every door in Mogadishu: "Today's the day!" they say, "Vaccination day!"
Throughout 16 districts of Banadir Region, nearly 1,700 vaccination teams trained by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), were on a "Mop Up Mission."
"The measles mop up campaign aims to reach all of those children we were not able to get to in Mogadishu in August," explained UNICEF Somalia's Chief of Health, John Agbor.
The vaccination campaign initially targeted 750,000 children in 16 districts of Banadir Region, however, preliminary reports by UNICEF and WHO show that the campaign reached 626,625 children from six months, up to 15 years old with measles vaccine; 273,488 children under the age of five were reached with polio vaccines; and 212,521 children from 12 to 59 months old received de-worming tablets. Due to insecurity in the region, two districts were not covered.
Since the initial campaign began in August, measles infections in Somalia have slowed down, still, the disease continues to be a concern in congested areas such as internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Overall, measles cases have declined considerably, with 1,644 cases reported in October compared to 1,902 in September in south central regions.
The campaign started weeks before the cooler boxes and syringes were even unpacked. A week-long door to door campaign aimed to register all unvaccinated children in the capital’s 16 districts — and also talk to concerned parents.
"There are few people in the Mogadishu camps who have not seen the threat of measles," said Mohamed Shire with WHO. "There are some parents, however, who have fears, so in our door to door registration, we try and talk to them and explain the life-saving benefits of the vaccine."
As little ones shy away from the orange-clad health workers with scary syringes full of the life-saving vaccine, young teens put on a brave face and push out their upper arm to receive their dose.
To mobilise the population, UNICEF and WHO also used radio and TV spots advising parents and caregivers to be prepared with their children at home, or bring their children to vaccination points — including schools across Mogadishu.
Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a generalized rash. It is spread through respiration (contact with fluids from an infected person's nose and mouth, either directly or through aerosol transmission), and is highly contagious. In the context of over-crowded IDP camps, and children with reduced immunity due to malnutrition and other illnesses, this can spell disaster.
With the escalation of the emergency in 2011, UNICEF has stepped up its existing nutrition, health and education interventions in the country. Still, Somali children require greater global support to meet their urgent needs.