Hibo: an immunisation champion
The morning is cloudy in Hayableh, an overpopulated and poor peri-urban area of Djibouti’s capital. Suddenly, it begins to rain. Seated on the bench of the health centre, Hibo holds Ismael’s hand but the little boy’s curiosity was awakened by the water that falls from the sky and he wants to play with it. In a drought-stricken country as Djibouti, every drop is a bless. In Hibo’s lap, the 3-month old Deka sleeps indifferent to her brother’s excitement. Hibo smiles, but her joy has a different reason: Deka is being vaccinated for polio today, and she knows how important that is for her.
Hibo, 30, lives with her husband Bachir and their seven children in a shack made of waste materials, scrap metal and wood. Their live is harsh; a permanent struggle against poverty. Every evening, at 6pm, Hibo takes the pots and a small stove to the street and in this improvised kitchen she cooks ‘tomato pasta’ to sell. At midnight, she returns home. Deka, who is exclusively breastfed, is always with her; “I carry her on the sling, so I can breastfeed her anytime she wants”. She would not have anyone with whom she could leave her anyway; Bachir is home but must watch for the other six children. Sometimes he also teaches the Quran at home; that gives him roughly 60 US dollars a month.
In spite of their di cult life conditions, Hibo’s children are all healthy. They all survived and thrived despite the challenging environment. “They have fever here and there, but nothing really serious”, she reckons. For her, the explanation is simple: breastfeeding and immunization. “Exclusive breastfeeding is the first vaccine in a child’s life; and all other vaccines are critical for the baby to stay healthy. I’ve vaccinated all my children. If they miss any dose, I get in panic.”
Leading by example
Hibo learned about the importance of breastfeeding and immunization in a training organized by the Ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF. She is part of a network of volunteers working to promote behaviour change in favour of children and mother’s health. They raise awareness among other mothers, fathers and community members. “I also teach by example”, she says. “People see how my children are healthy; and I tell them it’s because they’ve been vaccinated”.
It’s thanks to people like Hibo that immunization rates in Hayabley are among the highest in country.
UNICEF supports these networks of volunteers, provides vaccines, injection devices and cold chain equipment; and helps the Ministry of Health organize immunization campaigns and community outreach activities.
In 2016 and in line with the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013–2018 — a global initiative that seeks the eradication of all polio disease by 2018 — UNICEF supported the country to successfully introduce the inactive polio vaccine (IPV). Today, Deka is benefiting from it.
« The future is unpredictable » says Hibo. Yet, she has hope: “I hope my children have a better life than the one we have now. That they are able to work and thrive when adults”. Of one thing, she is sure: immunization is a way to prevent many diseases that could hinder this future.