Annual report 2019-20Read now
by Reiseal Ni Cheilleachair
As ‘World Immunisation Week’ draws to an end, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that global vaccination targets are a long way from being met.
There are many challenges to overcome to achieve the goal of reaching all children with vaccines. Of particular concern are the children living in areas, many of them embroiled in conflict, that almost seem to have been forgotten by the world.
One such area is South Kordofan in Sudan. Since the outbreak of hostilities between the Sudanese Army Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in 2011, more than 1 million people have been without access to badly needed humanitarian support. Daily bombardments and shelling continue to terrorise people, injuring and killing civilians including the elderly, women and children. A small number of organisations are trying to provide critical health care for the people. The Diocese of El Obeid, supported by Trócaire, runs the Mother of Mercy Hospital (MMH) in Gidel in the Nuba Mountains.
Vaccinations are life-saving, ensuring that many deaths from preventable diseases do not occur. The WHO says they should be available to each and every child, “whoever they are and wherever they live”. In places like the Nuba Mountains this proves to be easier said than done.
2014 saw an outbreak of measles in the Nuba Mountains, with over 1,400 cases and 30 deaths reported by the Mother of Mercy Hospital alone. The hospital wards were filled to capacity and at times close to 100 infected children had to be cared for in improvised shelters. It is likely that many more cases remained unreported in remote villages who were not able to access any care at all. This devastating outbreak could have been prevented – with just a single vaccination these children and their families would not have suffered. In today’s world the fact that children die from a totally preventable disease is scandalous.
After months of extensive lobbying in 2014, it finally became possible to conduct immunisation campaigns that reached nearly 50,000 children under five. However a shortage of vaccine meant that there was just enough to vaccinate 33% of the target population of children under five years of age.
Since then, the Mother of Mercy Hospital has been able to independently access another vaccine supplier and vaccines are now being distributed through four supported health facilities and have so far reached more than 3,000 children in just the first two months of this initiative. The cost of the initiative is a staggering 250,000 USD.
The Diocese of El Obeid, with support from its partners, is doing what it can, but the international community must do more. They must take action to stand up for all children and start closing the immunisation gap. Vaccination plans need to be adapted to districts and communities, not just to countries. Organisations like the UN mandated to uphold the rights of children, cannot be hampered by national boundaries and internal politics and should stand up for children that are not being heard.
If immunisation is not prioritised in the Nuba Mountains, the most vulnerable and marginalised children will continue to miss out. Simply put, a vaccine is the difference between life and death.