Vaccinating and registering the children born during Ebola

Sierra Leone conducts immunization and birth registration campaigns for children under five

July 2015

In Sierra Leone, the Ebola outbreak has affected all aspects of health care. Exact numbers are yet to be confirmed but it is clear that many children have missed out on routine vaccination services and birth registration during the outbreak. To counter this, mass immunization campaigns are being held to enable children to ‘catch-up’. In June this year, an integrated measles and polio campaign was conducted reaching 97% of children under the age of 5.

 Sierra Leone conducts immunization and birth registration campaigns for children under five
WHO/E. Kalondo

In mid-July, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, supported by WHO, UNICEF, Plan Sierra Leone (nongovernmental organization) and other partners held a 3-day campaign to vaccinate 1.4 million children against polio.

The campaign also registered births, issuing birth certificates for an estimated 200 000 children born at home during the Ebola outbreak. Children not registered at birth prior to the outbreak were also registered and issued with certificates nationwide.

"Immunization campaigns are important steps in protecting children against preventable diseases and assuring their well-being", said Dr Anders Nordström, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.

"While we are still striving to get to zero Ebola, restoring services – such as birth registration and routine immunization – and empowering social structures and institutions to be functional is critical in transitioning from the Ebola response to a concrete recovery process."

Reaching children who cannot come to health centres

 Sierra Leone conducts immunization and birth registration campaigns for children under five
WHO/E. Kalondo

This is the first time health-care services and civil registration services for children have been integrated in mass campaigns like this one in Sierra Leone.

The door-to-door campaign also provided a good opportunity to vaccinate children who missed routine immunization. Families in homes under quarantine in Ebola-affected areas also benefitted from these essential services.

“I am happy to receive these services for my newborn child because they are free and right here at my home. Imagine if I had to walk in the rains to go to the health centre and at the same time pay for the services!” said Adama Conteh, a 39-year-old woman at the Red Pump Community in Freetown. Adama’s 11-day-old son, Mohamed, had just received his polio vaccination and a birth certificate.

"While we are still striving to get to zero Ebola, restoring services and empowering social structures and institutions to be functional is critical in transitioning from the Ebola response to a concrete recovery process."

Anders Nordström, WHO Representative, Sierra Leone

After vaccination, indelible ink is marked on the children’s fingers as proof that they were vaccinated. Independent monitors conduct post campaign monitoring to assess coverage.

Protecting children’s rights

Birth registration is an essential part of protecting children’s rights. Although 78% of children under the age of 5 are registered at birth in Sierra Leone, those who lack identity documents are at risk of child labour, early marriage and other forms of violence.

While the last case of wild polio virus in the country was reported in 2010, Sierra Leone, like other countries in the region, still stands the risk of polio re-infection. The African region has not yet been certified polio free thereby making every country vulnerable to the disease.