Vaccine protects refugee children entering Kenya from killer pneumonia

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Following its introduction in Kenya, the pneumococcal vaccine is now protecting refugees from Somalia in Dadaab refugee camp

Text and images by Manuel Moreno and Kyle O’Donoghue, UNICEF

DADAAB, Kenya, 12 September 2011 - eight months ago, Kenya become one of the first countries in Africa to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine, and more children now have access to the life-saving vaccine through routine immunisation in the Dadaab refugee camps in the north-east of the country.

With a population of 430,000 people, Dadaab has unofficially become the third largest city in Kenya. This number continues to grow dramatically as an average of 1,300 new arrivals comes to the camps each day. With this high concentration of people, low hygiene standards and pressure on sanitation services, the risk of disease spreading rapidly is ever-present.

The pneumococcal vaccine is currently being supplied to all three reception points in Dadaab, and it aims to protect all children against one of the most common causes of pneumonia and a leading cause of deaths among children around the world.

A mother knows best

Hubia Aden and her six children are new arrivals in Hagadera camp, one of the three camps around Dadaab. She had to walk for 21 days from Kibiyow in northern Somalia, taking care of all her children by herself during a dangerous and hard journey.

Hubia’s husband stayed in Somalia to look after the three last remaining cattle. It was a mutual decision but somehow she hopes that her husband will join them soon, as the burden of looking after the children alone is high.

During the registration process, Hubia receives an initial food ration for three weeks along with basic supplies, clothes and shelter. As part of this process, the family is medically screened and her children receive a cocktail of immunisations.

In addition to protection from polio, measles and diphtheria any children under one year old also receive the new pneumococcal vaccine.

UNICEF correspondent Kyle O'Donoghue reports on efforts to provide pneumococcal vaccine, and prevent deadly outbreaks of pneumonia, among Somali refugee children at camps in Dadaab, Kenya.
Source: UNICEF/2010

Hubia’s youngest child is 9-month-old Mohammed and he gets one more injection than his siblings. The vaccination takes place inside the International Rescue Committee (IRC) immunisation post at Hagadera refugee reception, an easy room to identify amongst others because of the constant sound of children crying.

Around 300 children are vaccinated here every day and little Mohammed is the first of his siblings to receive the immunisation. His mother comforts him with a big smile and kind eyes. She is well aware of the importance of that shot.

"There were no hospitals in Somalia and my children were not vaccinated. I understand it is important because I was immunised as a child. This will help my children avoid getting sick," she says.

One of the biggest child killers

Latest statistics indicate that pneumonia claims nearly 2 million children under the age of five each year around the world – more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In Kenya, pneumonia accounts for around 30,000 of the 120,000 under-five child deaths each year.

"Pneumococcal vaccine prevents pneumonia and meningitis. Pneumonia is one of the biggest killers of children, so it is good that the refugees are also getting this vaccine", said Ranganai Matema, UNICEF’s Health Officer in Dadaab.

As part of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI Alliance), UNICEF and WHO have played a key role in supporting the Government of Kenya in becoming one of the first countries in Africa to roll out the vaccines nationwide in February.

The future for Hubia is uncertain, as it is for most of the new arrivals in Dadaab. They aren’t sure where they will sleep tonight or whether her children will find space in the camp schools that are just opening. But she understands that her children's immunisation is an important first step in beginning her new life in the camp.

Amongst all the unknowns, one thing is certain – they should not fall victim to pneumonia.

Reprinted with kind permission from the UNICEF site.

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