By Monica Awad
EIN AL BEIDAH, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 3 May 2011 – The Ein Al Beidah government clinic in northern West Bank was overcrowded as mothers rushed to get their children vaccinated during Regional Immunization Week.
VIDEO: 28 April 2011 - UNICEF reports on Regional Immunization Week in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, part of an initiative promoting immunization to the most vulnerable children. Watch in RealPlayer
Mother-of-two Iman Talal came to the clinic determined to vaccinate her two-month-old son Mohammed. “I know that immunization is very important for my child and this is why I was determined to come to the clinic today,” she said.
The week – organized as part of the World Health Organization’s Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean – was supported by the Ministry of Health, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and UNICEF, with a kick-off event held in Ramallah. Regional Immunization Week is an annual initiative celebrating and promoting immunization through advocacy, education and communication activities.
Reaching the most vulnerable
“Through the regional immunization week, we aim to increase awareness to immunization through media, advocacy and above all strong partnership,” said Tony Laurance, Head of the World Health Organization for Occupied Palestinian Territory.
There is no public transport available to get to the Ein al Beidah clinic, leaving Bedouins and herders no other choice but to walk there.
Ms. Talal, who lives in Al Jubah, one of the five nearby Bedouin communities, made her way along dirt roads. But she was determined to reach the clinic safely and on time, and hopes her children will have a better life than she has. “I want my children to complete their education to enable them to get better jobs and earn a good living,” she explained.
Such activities are crucial in giving children the best start in life. “Regional immunization week is important because it allows us to reach the five per cent of children we’re not able to reach, like children of Ein Al Beidah and nearby Bedouin and herding communities,” said UNICEF Special Representative Jean Gough.
Despite the unstable political situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory, the immunization week partners – with additional funds from the Government of Japan and others – have managed to sustain coverage rates.
“We feel proud of our collective efforts in sustaining the immunization coverage beyond 95 per cent, despite the current uprising,” said Asad Ramlawi, Director General of Primary Care and Public Health of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health.
To further improve child health, the ministry has introduced new vaccines that will protect children from diseases such as meningitis and pneumonia, two of the leading causes of deaths and illnesses among young children.
Despite these major achievements, the Ministry of Health has yet to reach the remaining five per cent of children who have not been immunized. The main concern is accessing Bedouin communities. The Ministry now visits five such communities to educate them on the importance of immunization, proper child-feeding practices and how to look after and seek medical care for sick children.
To ramp up outreach efforts, the Ministry has also allocated six mobile clinics to target children who have not yet been vaccinated.
As the mobile clinic reached Ein Al Hilweh in northern West Bank, mother-of-two Wisal Awad, 17, approached the van. “My six-month old son Amin was not immunized because we are always moving from one place to another with our goats and sheep, trying to earn a living,” she said.
Health workers examined the children, and found both were suffering from bacterial infections and lacked proper vaccinations. Ms. Awad promised to bring her children back to the clinic in a week for follow up.
It is hoped that continued efforts on immunization will make children from hard-to-reach Bedouin and herding communities much less vulnerable to disease in the future.