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An Equal Shot at a Health: Providing Immunization Services for the Hardest to Reach

posted Apr 25, 2018, 5:29 AM by GAVI CSO   [ updated Apr 25, 2018, 5:51 AM ]
By: Henry Musembi, IRC/CGPP Project Manager, Turkana, Kenya; John Kiogora, Health Coordinator, IRC Kenya; Comfort Olorunsaiye, Immunization Advisor, IRC HQ, New York

During this 2018 World Immunization Week, we should all be reminded of the lifesaving power of vaccines. All children, regardless of where they live, deserve an equal shot at a healthy future. Yet, millions of the world’s children still lack access to immunization services, putting them at risk of preventable illnesses and even death.

In Turkana County – the second largest county in Kenya – children have long suffered from poor health outcomes. As predominantly nomadic pastoralists, the Turkana people travel across local and international borders often in search of pasture and water for their herds of cattle. High mobility and the need to travel long distances to reach health facilities that provide immunization services has proved challenging for the community. As a result, children often miss their immunization appointments and become vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio.

As an implementing partner for the CORE Group Polio Project (CGPP), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) works to support the Turkana County Ministry of Health in conducting successful polio vaccination campaigns through community mobilization, deployment of extra vaccination teams to immunize mobile populations at cross-border points, supervision and the provision of communication materials for supplemental immunization activities (SIAs).

The IRC also works with the Turkana County Ministry of Health to strengthen community-based disease surveillance with a major focus on acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) – the most common sign of acute polio and one of the most important indicators in the fight to eradicate polio. The IRC mobilizes communities in Turkana for case finding and reporting of AFP and other vaccine preventable diseases, including measles, neonatal tetanus and others.

The IRC manager takes the history of a child with suspected AFP in Kokuro, Kibish sub-country

The IRC also works to support routine immunization services in the three hard-to-reach cross border sub-counties in Turkana: Loima, Turkana West, and Kibish. The IRC works directly with the Health Management Teams to ensure the cross border health facilities have functional cold chain systems. The project also provides logistic support for transporting vaccines in these hard-to-reach areas. To target populations living in inaccessible mountainous areas along the international border, monthly integrated routine immunization outreaches are conducted. Through these initiatives, approximately 11,500 children under 5 have been reached with life-saving vaccines. 

               A nurse immunizes a child during an outreach session in Loima sub-County     A child receives oral polio vaccine during a SIA at a cross-border area between Kenya and Uganda 

By working together, implementers, donors, civil society, communities, governments and frontline health workers can help provide even the hardest to reach populations, like the children of Turkana County, with lifesaving immunization services. We should all commit to doing just that. #VACCINESWORK