Sierra Leone: Restarting immunization in Ebola-affected village

February 2015

One of the great challenges in this Ebola outbreak is finding ways to safely provide essential health services like child immunization while still fighting the Ebola outbreak. This is the story of what the community health care team in Kamasondo village are doing to reach all the babies born in the district during the Ebola outbreak and vaccinate them against common childhood killers.

Child immunization in Kamasondo village, Sierra Leone
WHO/P. Desloovere

It is a quiet morning in the primary healthcare unit of Kamasondo village, Port Loko district. Today is the first day for all newborns to get vaccinated since the Ebola outbreak started, but only a few mothers with their babies show up.

The community is still scared to go back to the health centre. Since the end of September, when the Ebola outbreak was raging in the village, the Kamasondo health centre had been used as a holding centre for Ebola patients and most health services, including immunization, were suspended.

"I went to the villages to inform them about today's immunizations, but we are still waiting for people to come."

David Gbla, community health officer, Sierra Leone

While the clinic has returned to offering primary health care services, the majority of mothers still do not come to the health centre to give birth but chose instead to deliver their babies at home with support from traditional birth attendants, risking infections from non-sterile instruments, among other hazards.

"I went to the villages to inform them about today’s immunizations, but we are still waiting for people to come," says David Gbla, the community healthcare officer for Kamasondo. For the past few weeks, the number of Ebola cases has declined in the district, and some of the health workers are returning to their regular jobs.

"I have a catchment population of about 4800 people," continues Gbla. "I know there are a lot of newborns in this community, but I would be guessing for an exact figure."

Newborns receiving lifesaving vaccines and a health check-up

Abie Sankoh, a mother of 6 from Mapang village, has arrived at the clinic with her two-month-old baby. "We are here to get vaccines for our children for diseases like fever, tuberculosis and polio. The nurse told me to come to the clinic because they give us vaccines that protect our children," she says.

What initially started as a slow day ended as a success. More than 45 healthy babies, born since the Ebola outbreak started, received 2 vaccines – Bacillus Calmette-Guérin and pentavalent vaccine – to protect them against tuberculosis, haemophilus influenza type b, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and diphtheria.

"One of the great challenges in this Ebola outbreak is finding ways to safely provide essential health services like child immunization while still fighting the Ebola outbreak," says Daniel Kertesz, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.

Knowing that this is the first health visit for most of these babies, Mr Gbla and his colleagues take advantage of the opportunity to weigh them and give them a health check-up, sending them on their way with a clean bill of health and protection against some common childhood killers.