Child Health Days bring vaccines to isolated children
Somalian barber Abdi Ibrahim knows all too well the importance of vaccinating vulnerable children against life threatening illnesses. Last year, he suffered what no father should ever suffer, losing his two year old daughter Nagat to measles. “My daughter got sick when I was traveling,” Abdi explains. “And when I came back home, she had already been sick for three days. She had fever and stopped eating even her favourite food. I tried to make her drink milk but she vomited everything.” Despite Abdi’s desperate efforts to save her, five short days later, his daughter was gone. Abdi didn’t get Nagat vaccinated because the clinic was far away. He still blames himself for her death.
Forced to flee their home in Mogadishu in the 1990’s when violence in the Somalian capital made any kind of normal life impossible, Abdi and his family now live in the remote north-western village of Hayaayabo. Abdi, his pregnant wife and their four children live in a hut made out of rags, and survive on Abdi’s modest income of about two dollars a day. The money stretches far enough for one daily meal of rice or maize, but Abdi is unable to afford meat or milk, and he has been saving for months in the hopes of being able to buy a plastic tarp to keep the rain out of the hut. The village has no access to primary health care, and the nearest water point is 2.5 kilometres away, making basic hygiene a daily difficulty.
Grieving the loss of little Nagat, since her death Abdi has lived with the daily fear of losing his 16-month old daughter Sahra to a similarly preventable disease. However, this was all changed by the UNICEF-supported Child Health Days Initiative – a lifeline for vulnerable children.
A joint program with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Initiative brings primary health care to underserved areas, offering free health intervention for women and children. Not only do Child Health Days offer the measles vaccination that would have saved Nagat’s life, they immunize children against equally deadly diseases such as polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus. Children are also screened for nutrition status, and vitamin A supplements, oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets are provided. The initiative is targeting more than 1.6 million children under five and 1.8 million women of child-bearing age across Somalia. The goal of such an initiative is simple – saving kids' lives.
With Abdi’s young daughter Sahra just two months younger than Nagat was when she contracted measles, the arrival of the friendly Child Health Day workers seemed like a miracle. “I was so happy to know that the team will come to our village,” he said. “I have been expecting them and I was one of the first ones to be at the site.” Thanks to the Child Health Day Initiative’s visit to Hayaayabo, Sahra joined the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have been treated by previous rounds of the campaign. As the Child Health Day practitioners vaccinated Sahra, Abdi watched in happy relief as his daughter received the vaccines that will safeguard her right to a safe and healthy future.