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Rebuilding child health services in Somalia

Though the security situation in Somalia is still far from ideal, conditions are now peaceful enough for the country to build up its child health services.

Currently, the rate of child immunisation in Somalia is described by health experts as “incredibly low”, particularly in places such as Mogadishu, which have experienced much insecurity. But even in relatively stable regions, such as Puntland and Somaliland, a joint survey by government officials and the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, indicated that only around 1 in 10 children had received all three doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine by their first birthday.

Now that Somalia is more peaceful, one paediatric director at the Banadir hospital in Mogadishu tells the news agency IRIN, that the hospital plans to begin immunising 1,000 children each month. This is desperately needed. Only last month, the doctor saw 26 cases of measles, 19 of tuberculosis, 14 of tetanus and 9 children with meningitis. Six of these youngsters died, a situation which is not only tragic but incredibly frustrating, when vaccines can protect children against such diseases. The director states the case simply – “children in Somalia are dying of diseases that are prevented in the rest of the world”.

The Somali government is keen to address the situation. During World Immunisation Week last week, it announced that all children under the age of one will receive the new five-in-one vaccine, known as the pentavalent vaccine. As well as protecting children against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, the pentavalent vaccine immunises against hepatitis B and haeomphilius influenza type b. The introduction of the vaccine will be funded and supported by the GAVI Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), though these agencies recognise the huge challenges which lie ahead. A spokesperson acknowledged that while it was easy enough to stock the vaccines in fridges, “getting them to the children” would be the hard task.

The president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, showed his support by being present at the launch of the new vaccine, which was being heralded as “a milestone” in the country’s history. As part of the government’s commitment to improving child health in Somalia, he indicated that in the future, the state would consider co-financing vaccination programmes, as other countries do. But first, Somalia must bring peace and security to its many regions. Only then, will health workers be able to reach all children with the healthcare and immunisation programmes the government wishes to provide.

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