UNICEF reports that a staggering 23 million children worldwide missed out on essential vaccines through routine immunisation services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the Day of the African Child, 16th June 2022, we take an in-depth look into how African children were affected by this plight, as seen through the eyes of local communities. With just a mobile phone, some online training and production and editing managed remotely; we interviewed three people on the ground in Africa. A community health worker, an Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) manager, and a three-year-old child’s mother.
Pamela Anyango, a community health worker from Nairobi, Kenya, tells her experience with routine immunisation challenges and how she was able to tackle them. According to her, the number of children immunised in her location declined by over 44% during the height of the pandemic. This decline was a drastic fall in numbers that necessitated a strategic change in community awareness efforts. The stark contrast in immunisation numbers before and after COVID-19 is representative of the general attitude of the population towards vaccination. From Pamela’s story, it is clear that there is a need for increased efforts at finding solutions to tackle routine immunisation challenges amid any arising socio-economic upheaval.
An account from Western Africa as told by Dr Essono Ngono Paulin, an EPI manager from Cameroon, shows similarities in the community perspective around immunisation during the COVID-19 epidemic. Addressing vaccine misconceptions at the grassroots level was highlighted by Dr Paulin as an effective method to encourage immunisation and combat fear in the community.
Mbezele Anastasie Estelle, a mother of a three-year-old son, further emphasises the EPI manager’s sentiments. Mbezele’s child missed out on his 6th-month vaccine primarily due to the mother’s fear of contracting COVID-19 from a hospital visit. Misconceptions about COVID-19 appear to be a powerful force in reducing immunisation numbers and in mothers actively avoiding visits to health centres. Therefore community outreach and awareness efforts should be amplified consistently in Africa to combat the prevailing misinformation.
The right to healthcare access is a core aspect of the purpose of the International Day of the African Child. Taking the narratives mentioned earlier into account, the relevance of highlighting the decline in child immunisation on this day is clear. Further, the COVID-19 scourge has exposed significant gaps in the immunisation systems in Africa. Also, these stories, depicting the actual picture from the ground, should spur key players in immunisation to take action in encouraging innovation in awareness creation and implementation of pandemic preparedness protocols.
It is inconceivable that according to UNICEF, 23 million children missed out on immunisation vaccines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please write to your local representative wherever you are in the world and tell us what they say!
Be outraged with us!!
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