In Kenya, vaccine protects Somali refugee children from killer pneumonia 

In Kenya, vaccine protects Somali refugee children from killer pneumonia

About six months ago, Kenya was one of the first countries in Africa to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine, and children now have access to this life-saving intervention through routine immunization in the Dadaab refugee camps in the north-east of the country. Report by Manuel Moreno and Kyle O’Donoghue. DADAAB, Kenya

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Kyle O’Donoghue reports on efforts to provide pneumococcal vaccine, and prevent deadly outbreaks of pneumonia, among Somali refugee children at camps in Dadaab, Kenya.

The Dadaab settlement, comprising more than 430,000 people in three camps, has become the third largest population centre in Kenya, after the capital, Nairobi, and the port city of Mombasa. This number continues to grow dramatically as, on average, some 1,200 Somalis still arrive in Dadaab each day.

With such a high concentration of people, low hygiene standards and pressure on sanitation services in the camps, the risk of diseases spreading rapidly is ever-present. The pneumococcal vaccine is being supplied to all three refugee reception points in Dadaab to protect all arriving children against one of the most common causes of pneumonia – a leading cause of child deaths around the world.

Somali refugee receives his vaccination
Somali refugee Hubia Aden holds one of her six children as they await his vaccination against pneumococcal disease at the Hagadera camp in Dadaab, north-eastern Kenya. The pneumococcal vaccine is part of the standard package of immunizations received by newly arriving children to help prevent disease outbreaks amidst crowded conditions of the camps and provide long-term protection against pneumonia. UNICEF Image © UNICEF Kenya/2011/Moreno

Special protection for infants

Hubia Aden and her six children are new arrivals in Hagadera, one of the camps around Dadaab. She had to walk for 21 days from Kibiyow in northern Somalia, taking care of all her children by herself during the hard, dangerous journey.

Hubia’s husband stayed in Somalia to look after the household’s three remaining cattle. It was a mutual decision, but she hopes he will join them soon.

During the registration process, Hubia received an initial food ration for three weeks, along with other basic supplies, clothes and shelter. As part of this process, the family was medically screened and her children receive a cocktail of immunizations.

In addition to protection from polio, measles and diphtheria, children under one year of age receive the new pneumococcal vaccine. So Hubia’s youngest child, nine-month-old Mohammed, got one more injection than his siblings.

‘This will help my children’

Mohammed was vaccinated inside the International Rescue Committee immunization post at the Hagadera reception point. It is an easy room to identify amongst others in the vicinity because of the constant sound of children crying. Around 300 children are vaccinated here every day.

“There were no hospitals in Somalia, and my children were not vaccinated,” said Hubia. “I understand it is important because I was immunized as a child. This will help my children avoid getting sick.”

Worldwide, pneumonia claims the lives of nearly 1.5 million children under five each year – more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In Kenya, pneumonia accounts for around 30,000 of the 124,000 under-five child deaths each year.

A child waits for a vaccination provided camp in Dadaab,
Nine-month-old Mohammed waits on his mother’s lap for a pneumococcal vaccination provided to all newly arriving infant refugees at the Hagadera camp in Dadaab, north-eastern Kenya. The vaccine was first introduced in Kenya early in 2011, and the immunization programme has now been incorporated into the camps for refugees from Somalia. UNICEF Image © UNICEF Kenya/2011/Moreno

“Pneumococcal vaccine prevents pneumonia and meningitis. Pneumonia is one of the biggest killers of children, so it is good that the refugees are also getting this vaccine,” said Ranganai Matema, UNICEF’s Health Officer in Dadaab.

GAVI Alliance supports roll-out

As part of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization – the GAVI Alliance – UNICEF and the World Health Organization have played a key role in supporting the Kenyan Government’s roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccine nationwide, beginning in February of this year.

In Dadaab, meanwhile, the future for Hubia and her children is uncertain, as it is for most of the new arrivals. They aren’t sure where they will sleep tonight or whether the children will find space in the camp schools that are just opening. But Hubia understands that her children’s immunization is an important first step in beginning their new life in the camp.

Amongst all the unknowns, one thing is certain: They should not fall victim to pneumonia.

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