immunizations

Ezekiel Kyasesa, village health team coordinator in western Uganda. {Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.

Ezekiel Kyasesa is a village health team coordinator and supervisor in Kasese District, western Uganda. He supports 11 villages, 90 parishes, and 2 health centers.

Ezekiel has been working in community health for a few years, but only on a small scale. A year ago, he was selected to attend a training provided by STRIDES for Family Health to learn new family planning, child survival, and reproductive health information and the skills to become a village health team member. He was then nominated by his peers to become the coordinator and supervisor.

Now Ezekiel is educated and has the skills to go out to the communities and talk to people about the benefits of going to the health center for a range of services. The village health teams are a crucial link to sharing knowledge and information between the clinics and the communities.

Ezekiel and his village health team visit 10 households two days each week (20 visits per team member each week). He explained that they discuss with the mothers --- the key person to a healthy family --- four topics:

Women learning about family planning at Bikone Health Center II, Western Uganda. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

This was my first trip to Africa working with a development agency. While I had visited the African continent for personal trips previously, arriving in this context felt different. I was immediately aware of the challenges Uganda is facing. From the crumbling road infrastructure and high incidence of traffic accidents in Kampala, to the mobile phone networks that are pretty reliable while internet access is often spotty, to the prevalence of street children --- I can for the first time see what my local colleagues are up against.

I felt a bit overwhelmed in the first few days. Is there any way we can address all these challenges? Can we make a difference?

Visiting communities and health centers in Kampala, Eastern and Western Uganda -- and seeing first-hand the impact MSH is having across the country -- quickly re-inspired me.

I had the pleasure of meeting a particularly passionate and committed Clinical Officer, Rodger Rwehandika, at Bikone Health Center II in Western Uganda. As a health center II, Bikone is an outpatient facility, but the staff of the facility can also conduct outreach programs to educate and serve the community.

Rodger and his two staff facilitate health education programs at the local schools and also host youth-friendly programs on using condoms.

A child born in Ghana today will most likely receive a full schedule of immunizations, and her chances of surviving past the age of five are far better than they were a decade ago. Today Ghana boasts a coverage rate for infant vaccination of 90 percent and hasn’t seen an infant die of measles since 2003.

Ghana has been expanding primary health care by bringing services to people’s doorsteps since the 1980s, and since the early 2000s has done so in the context of a commitment to universal health coverage. The secret to its success in child immunization has been both integration and decentralization of health services: Government funding for all health activities is provided through a "common pot." District-level managers are responsible for local budgeting and service delivery. Local staff provide comprehensive rather than specialized care.

Ghana is one of a growing number of low- and middle-income countries demonstrating that strong performance in immunization can go hand-in-hand with the aspiration of universal health coverage, access for all to appropriate health services at an affordable cost.

It is 5:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning in the town of Mwene-Ditu, located in the Eastern Kasaï Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The skies are still dark as the crieur, the town crier, makes his rounds, calling out to the community that today is the start of the three-day national vaccination campaign against polio.

As the local residents begin their day, health workers are finalizing preparations for the massive door-to-door effort to immunize children under age five years old from this crippling disease. One such worker is Evariste Kalonji, a community mobilization specialist with the Integrated Health Project.

Providing immunizations to children in Afghanistan.

Many children in Afghanistan can be spared of communicable diseases that can make them ill and even cause death, if they receive routine vaccinations. But in a country of more than 25 million people in a country the size of Texas, where over 80% of the population lives in rural areas, immunizing every child against measles, diphtheria, pertusis (whooping cough), tetanus, and polio is very challenging.

Large scale immunization campaigns have proved helpful, but have been unable to significantly increase and maintain high immunization rates throughout the country.

The US Agency for International Development’s BASICS project (Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival), with support from MSH, is working with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and UNICEF to demonstrate in nine districts how an expanded program on immunization (EPI) micro-planning can successfully increase the number of immunized children.

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