Thursday, July 16, 2015

Immunization campaign gaining momentum to protect children of Timor-Leste

Hera sub-district is half an hour drive from Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Today’s morning is different than any other days for the inhabitants of this small township. The playground in front of the Hera Primary School is already full of children and parents. The presence of local popular singer brings festivity to the event.

Like many mothers, Flanita de Jesus (22) and Ilda de Carvalho (19) are also awaiting with their babies to receive free vaccines against diseases such as measles, rubella, and polio.

Dr Rui Maria de Araújo, the Prime Minster of Timor-Leste
 inaugurated the immunization campaign
by giving polio drops to a student in Hera, Dili.
© WHO Timor-Leste/2015/Kreidy
Dr Rui Maria de Araújo, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste inaugurates the immunization campaign by administrating an injection to a boy in presence of the Health Minister Dr. Maria do Céu Sarmento Pina da Costa, Education Minister Dulce de Jesus Soares, WHO Representative Dr. Rajesh Pandav, UNICEF Representative Desiree M. Jongsma and other dignitaries.

The Prime Minster called parents, teachers, community members and health workers not only to support the campaign but to continue their efforts for implementation of routine immunization programme during the inauguration of the programme.

Protection for children
The campaign aims to reach around 500,000 children between 0 months to less than 15 years from 13 July to 01 August 2015 to protect them from measles, polio, and rubella. It is taking place in all schools and in every aldeia (neighbourhood) throughout the country targeting to reach every child.

Desiree M. Jongsma, UNICEF Representative in Timor-Leste
gives polio drops to a baby during the launch
of the National Immunization Campaign in Hera, Dili.
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Dmonemnasi
“As a best act of love, ensure vaccination of your children during this immunization campaign as well as during routine immunization,” said Desiree M. Jongsma while emphasizing the importance of immunization for children. The slogan for the campaign is to “protect your child from diseases measles, rubella, and polio, bring them for vaccination during the national immunization campaign.”

The National Measles, Rubella, and Polio Immunization Campaign aims to close the immunization gap and strengthen the routine immunization programme to boost immunization levels against measles, rubella, and polio.

Reach every child
“I bring my baby for immunization as I want to keep him safe from dangerous diseases because vaccination will help to immunize my child,” said Ilda mother of Narcigio.

“I would like to ensure that my children do not get sick and are protected from measles and polio,” said Flanita de Jesus, a mother of two children, while patting her one and half year son who just received the injection. Flanita came with her three children from Sukaer laran aldeia to ensure immunization of her children.

Orlando da Silva (52), an Immunization Focal point
of the Health Center of Metinaro sub-district of Dili
gives vaccine to pre-secondary students.
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Dmonemnasi
One by one the children and students of the Hera Primary school received their vaccine, many w ere frightened of the needles, some were crying, but the pain was quickly over. 

"Fear holds nobody back," said Orlando da Silva (52), an Immunization Focal point of Health Center of Metinaro sub-district of Dili, who was passionately administrating injections to children and students. "Ignoring vaccines for our children means ignoring children's protection from deadly diseases," said Orlando.

The rubella virus is known to be circulating in Timor-Leste and a number of measles cases were reported in last year. During this campaign, the rubella vaccine has been introduced for the first time in the country and will become part of routine immunization scheduled from Sept 2015 onwards. Rubella is generally a mild illness but when a pregnant woman becomes infected, there is a 90 per cent chance of the fetus having a congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). The baby can be born with multiple birth defects – resulting in brain damage, heart disease, blindness, deafness, if the baby survives at all.

Enhance capacity

Trained health care workers and vaccination teams are being delivered the vaccines at all immunization posts and health facilities. Local leaders, health care workers and community health volunteers are involved to mobilize the community to ensure maximum immunization coverage is reached. The national media and community radio are playing an important role to raise awareness on the importance of vaccination and community mobilization.

The campaign is led by the Ministry of Health with the support from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of State Administration in partnership with WHO, Measles & Rubella Initiative, and UNICEF as well as national and international NGOs.

All partners have provided technical, logistical and financial support to the Ministry of Health to making the campaign a success. This support includes provision of vaccines, refrigerators, cold chain, installation of cold chain and refrigerators in in every health facilities in all 13 districts, training for health care workers, social mobilization, and a multi media campaign. The assistance provided are expected to contribute to enhancing capacity of the Government of Timor-Leste to implement its routine immunization in the future. This will contribute to ensuring improved child health, reduced preventable sickness and to building a strong healthy nation.

By Arifa S. Sharmin – UNICEF Communication Specialist

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