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Coronavirus opens novel ways to sustain child immunisation

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Elena Kachike braves the cold weather to traverse the muddy, hilly and rocky remote villages of Baringo South, about 270km west of capital Nairobi. She is armed with a pen and notebook.

Kachike, 45, knocks doors of each homestead with a new born child in need of immunisation.

She demands to see the child’s clinic card, which she keenly reads, recording dates for immunisation and other hospital check-ups.

The mother of seven is on a mission to curb immunisable diseases, amidst anxiety by mothers who are afraid to take their children to hospital due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am scared about the health of newborns. It is worrying that mothers are reluctant to take them for immunisation,” Kachike says.

Kachike is a community health volunteer, who doubles up as a birth attendant. She refers those who have skipped immunisation to hospital; and to be sure they have attended hospital, she re-visits their homes to counter-check the clinic cards. Further, she calls respective hospital in-charges and nurses to know if the children have been immunised.

So far, she has reached out to at least 80 homesteads in Eldume and 30 in Ilng’arua.

During an interview with GEMNET, Kachike said she was inspired to conduct door-to-door campaigns after she realised that mothers were giving their children herbs instead of taking them for immunisation.

Every day, she rises up early to begin her mission, and visits at least 15 families. She returns home as late as 6pm or after.

No face masks

“Some of the women would visit my home asking for herbs after their children developed flu, but on following up, I realised they were not taking them for immunisation,” she says.

She says some of the mothers fear that they may contract Covid-19 from hospital, while others say they have no face masks, and fear being arrested.

To address their fears, Kachike, has partnered with a local tailor, who makes fabric face masks that she distributes to mothers in need. She buys a metre of cotton fabric at Sh100 and makes about 10 two-layer face masks fitted with rubber strips.

Vaccinations are vital for children’s health. Photo/UNICEF

“There are needy cases of mothers who cannot even afford a meal, and so to them, buying a face mask is a tall order. This is why I distribute free face masks,” she explains.

Kachike does not expect payment for her work; she says hers is a service to humanity, and is calling upon the government to sensitise communities on immunisation and Coronavirus.

“How would you feel, if your neighbour’s child is paralysed because of polio, or rather, gets tuberculosis at an earlier age? We can stop this, can’t we?” she poses.

Baringo health report indicates that 17,396 children were immunised in 2019, bringing the percentage to 72% against the national target of 80%.

Sensitise mothers

Baringo County health executive Mary Panga says the county is using the local administration to sensitise mothers about taking their children for immunisation.

Panga lauded Community Health Volunteers for their efforts in educating communities on the importance of immunisation.

“The department is concerned about immunisation; this is the reason we are collaborating with village elders, chiefs and health volunteers to ensure all children do not miss out,” she said.

Similarly, the significance of immunisation was emphasised by the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Pediatric Research Consortium, Prof Fred Were. In a recent interview, he stressed that all children should be vaccinated to prevent childhood diseases even in the face of Covid-19.

He urged hospitals which receive a high volume of patients to set up areas for immunisation, at the same time observe social distancing. “Parents, health care givers and hospitals should explore alternative ways to reach out to all children in need of immunisation at this time,” said Prof Were.

 

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