Kenya

Successful distribution of life-preserving vaccines

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by Katja Weber, 2012/01/12

As so often, it is the children who are affected worst: the polio virus mostly afflicts girls and boys aged between three and eight years. Therefore, polio is also commonly referred to as “infantile paralysis”.

In Germany, polio has been eradicated – and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made it their aim to continue to exterminate the virus all over the world over the next decades. An absolute precondition for achieving this aim is to vaccinate all infants on our earth. And to promote better hygienic conditions, as the pathogens are picked up via the digestive tract.

Right now, people in the poorest regions of Kenya are not only suffering from the drought. Due to a lack of development and the dismal sanitary conditions they are also exposed to diseases such as polio. It is a vicious circle of hopelessness: those who count paralysed children or adults among their family members are hampered further from development. They can hardly work, but they are just as hungry as everyone else.

For this reason, in December humedica supported a polio vaccination campaign of the Kenyan Ministry of Health in the east of the country, in the region around the provincial capital of Wajir. It is true that the ministry provides free vaccinations for all children below the age of five, but the problem of how the vaccines are taken to the children in the first place is still left to local health centres.

During the current wet season, there is almost no way for the health centres to reach their mission locations: the streets are not paved, huge areas are completely flooded, roads are no longer recognisable or consist only of mud. During the campaign, a vehicle transporting vaccines got stuck in the mud in the middle of the road to one of the centres for days.

The two rescue vehicles shared this fate. And even though the wet seasons will be over in January, it will still take months until the roads will be safely passable once more. In face of this emergency situation, humedica decided to once more make use of the possibilities of a helicopter for distributing the cooled vaccines to various vaccination centres.

Although sources of infection have mostly been eradicated in Kenya, the virus is nevertheless often imported from the neighbouring countries of South Sudan and Somalia. Herdsmen now and then cross the border when looking for fresh pastures for their cattle – and they carry along the virus as undesirable luggage.

“The people are already more prone to infectious diseases, due to their insufficient nutrition and the dismal hygienic conditions. Therefore it is important for us to fight polio among infants from the very beginning by means of vaccinations – although vaccination campaigns don’t look as spectacular as food distributions or a rescue operation”, remarks Dr. Mohamed Sheikh, Director for Medical Care of the province.

The helicopter flew back and forth between villages disposing of health centres and Wajir for about 14 hours with cooling boxes for the vaccines and several nurses on board. Dr. Mohamed Sheikh was grateful, even enthusiastic: “On three days we supplied villages which otherwise we could not have visited for weeks. The boxes of vaccines we could distribute and use immediately thanks to humedica will save lives!”