(ERGO) – More than 600 health workers from the 17 districts in Somalia’s Benadir region were deployed last week in a door-to-door campaign aiming to vaccinate thousands of young children against Polio.
The target was to reach 174,000 children between aged between four months and two years in Mogadishu and its environs with an injectable polio vaccine, to give extra protection following earlier vaccination rounds using oral polio drops.
Dr Sahnuun Abdirahman Fidow, coordinating the vaccination process in Banadir for Somalia’s health ministry, told Radio Ergo that three sewage samples from districts in Banadir tested positive late last year for vaccine-derived Polio virus, leaving the country at high risk of an outbreak.
Radio Ergo’s local reporter set off with a vaccination team, wearing official yellow aprons, to follow the process in Hodan district.
There were mixed reactions to the team, with some parents readily agreeing to have their children vaccinated, but others either thinking it was not necessary, or fearing negative health consequences from the vaccine.
At the first of the 40 houses they aimed to reach that morning, the team explained the benefits of vaccination to a mother, who after about 10 minutes agreed to her three children – two boys, aged one and two, and a four-month-old baby girl – being vaccinated.
At the next house, however, the health workers had more trouble convincing the woman householder that the vaccine was necessary for her eight-month old baby. She was suspicious because it was free.
The first flat refusal of the vaccine witnessed by our reporter came from Osman Nur Haji, a father of four, whose wife was out when the vaccinators came to his house in Howl-wadaag district.
“I have seen children that have received the vaccination and have been suffering from diarrhea and malnutrition ever since. That is why I don’t accept it. It is not just me, my wife has the same views,” Osman said angrily.
The team could only make a note to report the case to the ministry for a further follow up, before moving on.
The campaign, supported by the UN’s World Health Organization and children’s fund UNICEF, continued for seven consecutive days, with teams also deployed to the IDP camps along the Mogadishu-Afgoye highway.
The messaging conveyed by the campaign emphasized the responsibility of parents to ensure their children are vaccinated and their religious duty to protect children from polio and other health risks.
Dr Sahnuun said still greater efforts will be needed to overcome the areas of resistance from parents. He said some of the parents believe that the vaccination is forbidden by Islam, whilst others believe it causes diseases, or that it is of poor quality because it comes free of charge at their doorstep.