Sierra Leone wraps up four-day health and vaccination campaign
Following the start of the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the intensely-affected countries suspended all large-scale national mass immunization campaigns for diseases like measles and polio. This decision was made as a safety precaution because typically immunization campaigns involve large gatherings of people as parents bring their children to the vaccination place. During the time Ebola was spreading widely, health authorities warned large group gatherings put more people at risk of contracting Ebola. However, this necessary safety precaution put in place to contain Ebola resulted in the decline of child vaccinations. As the number of people with Ebola has dwindled since the height of the outbreak, countries are looking ahead to revive vital health services, such as these routine immunizations.
As part of this effort, WHO worked in close collaboration with the Sierra Leone government and partners, to plan and supervise the recent Maternal and Child Health Week national campaign. The campaign aimed to reach more than 1.5 million children under the age of 5, with life-saving immunizations. In addition, children’s nutritional levels were measured, deworming tablets were administered and HIV testing was available for pregnant women and their partners.
Although the fight against Ebola is not over yet, these early-recovery efforts that are currently underway are positive indicators that the affected countries are on their way to return to normalcy. This photo story, gives you a first-hand look at the campaign efforts on the ground.
Encouraging communities to vaccinate their children
Paramount Chief Bai Shebora Gbereh III of Kafu Bulom chiefdom (Port Loko district) holds his 3-month-old daughter as she receives vitamin A drops. It is important for him to participate as it encourages others within his community to take part as well. Ever since the Ebola outbreak started, fewer parents and children have been visiting health facilities to get these free services. The campaign also included malnutrition assessments, the distribution of deworming tablets, HIV counselling for pregnant women and their partners, and vaccinations for children who missed routine immunization.
Supervising vaccination activities
In the community of Newton, in the outskirts of the capital Freetown, supervisors compile data on how many people were reached during the campaign. “Supervising the vaccination activities is key for the success of the campaign. This includes supervising pre-implementation activities, ensuring the cold chain is maintained, on-the-job training, quality data collection and so on,” says Dr Pamela Mitula, who heads WHO’s immunization programme in Sierra Leone.
WHO assisted the Ministry of Health by recruiting and training more than 100 independent monitors along with 60 supervisors, who were deployed in all districts.
Ensuring safety of the vaccinators
The Ebola outbreak is still ongoing, so extra precautions were put in place to ensure the safety of the vaccination teams as well as of the mothers and children. “Every time I attend a child, I make sure I use alcohol-based hand disinfectant and put on new fresh gloves,’ says vaccinator Mohamed Kanu in Maja Bama village in Western Rural Area. Gloves were also disposed in safety boxes that the teams carried with them.
Balancing child nutrition
In Maja Bama village, Western Rural Area, Abdul, seated on his grandmother’s lap, is about to have his middle upper arm circumference measured by vaccinator Mohamed Kanu. The measurement is used to determine the level of nutrition. “The tape includes green, yellow and red indicators,” says Mohamed. “Children falling within the red or yellow range, which indicates malnutrition, are referred for care to a health facility or their parents are advised on how to help them regain nutritional balance,” Mohamed continues.
Monitoring and evaluating progress and success
Once vaccinators have visited a household, they mark the house with chalk using a unique code. “The code we write on the front door indicates how many children and mothers have received the health services, or whether the house needs to be revisited,” says vaccinator Lucy Davies. The code is particularly important for supervisors and independent monitors who make spot checks on houses to evaluate the progress and success of the vaccination and health campaign.