SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS PROVINCE, Papua New Guinea , May 2018 — Angela Losi’s two-month old son, who still hasn’t been named, has never received any immunization since his mother gave birth to him at home.
When Angela heard that a mobile immunization team was coming to her village, she did not know what it was but she took her son with her and followed other mothers in the village to the immunization site.
Living in the same village, Wari Paki, a mother of three also took her children to the immunization site. Although her eldest daughter is six years old and her twin sons are three years old, none of them have received any vaccination.
“Nobody has talked to me about vaccine before so I did not know anything about it”, said Wari Paki.
Many women in Papua New Guinea like Angela and Wari, are unaware of the importance of vaccines. Many who live in remote areas are unable to access immunization services and others who have access to immunization just don’t bother because they live long distances to health facilities.
Coverage rates for immunization are low in Southern Highland province — with routine measles at 18.2 per cent in 2016. The earthquake that hit the province in February has made it more challenging for people to access primary healthcare services due to the breakdown of health facilities. Cold chain equipment, essential for vaccination were destroyed, impacting service delivery. Children who already have low immunity are at higher risks of contracting waterborne and vaccine-preventable diseases, especially in the aftermath of the earthquake. UNICEF and WHO have cautioned about the high potential of waterborne and vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the earthquake-affected areas.
Bringing services to the community
To protect children, especially those under five years of age, from contracting vaccine preventable diseases and to reduce the risk of potential outbreaks, UNICEF is supporting the Government and the Catholic Church Diocese to roll out an integrated immunization campaign in Southern Highlands province in static facilities and in communities by seven mobile outreach teams.
At Tente Village, Angela, Wari and their children were welcomed by the community health workers at a temporary immunization site set up on the side of the roadside. Here, while waiting to be seen, they receive key messages on the importance of vaccination for their children and other health issues.
Waki’s twin boys were screened for malnutrition and were also given Vitamin A and deworming tablets. Both Angela and Waki got Tetanus Toxoid vaccination to prevent tetanus infections.
In the afternoon, the health workers moved to the Tente Elementary school to vaccinate school children under five years of age. For many children in the school, it was their first time to be immunized. “Some of my friends are afraid but I am not. I am happy to get the shot because the teacher told me that immunization is good for me”, said Grace Wos, a first grader.
Capacity Building and Social Mobilization
To properly implement this campaign, UNICEF supported the training of health workers on vaccine management, micro planning development and social mobilisation “I found the training is very useful. Now I know clearly what to do each time I meet with mothers and children. I am also more confident in handling vaccination”, said George Tawe, a health worker who is part of the health team at Tente Village.
The training helped George to develop a social mobilization and community engagement plan to ensure that they reach all those in need in their catchment area.
George’s team reached around 150 mothers and children in Tente village.
The campaign, to end June and is expected to reach 49,500 children under five years of age and over 100,000 women in Southern Highlands Province.
“Vaccines are essential to protect children from preventable disease, especially during disasters. We are doing whatever it takes to reach out to as many children as possible”, said Monjur Hossain, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Survival and Development.
“Through the campaign, we hope to improve the capacity of health workers and increase immunization coverage rates not only during disasters but also in routine immunization”, he added.