By Badre Bahaji
I have been part of vaccination campaigns in many different regions and contexts, but nothing similar to the nomadic camp of Tchofio where a recent measles outbreak ravaged the community.
It is early morning as we head out to Abreche, in the Sahel Belt of Chad, where Oumar Mahazer, the Head of the health center is waiting for us. Many nomadic camps settle in his remote region during the rainy season but very few nomads make it to the health center. Today, he’s sending two vaccinators, Youssouf and Yaya, to the nomadic camp of Tchofio to immunize children against measles.
Youssouf was born and raised in this area and knows every tree, every river around. “The nomads live with us but they move their camp twice a year looking for grazing and water points. Recently, I was in the market and saw nomadic children with red lips, eyes full of dirt and spots all over their bodies. I had almost no doubt that this was measles. I went to see their parents and I told them to go straight to the health center for medical care. I also alerted the authorities,” he said.
After a 30 minutes’ drive and a long walk in the bush under the heat, we get to the Tchofio nomadic camp. We realize that none of the children there had been immunized as we walk from tent to tent to sensitize families and immunize their children. “During the last measles outbreak, these nomads were not located here and they missed the campaign, it’s important to reach them to prevent any new epidemics,” adds Yaya.
Halime Attai, 25, is the mother of four beautiful children. During the last epidemic, early 2016 three of her children, Moussa, Izza and Mariam caught measles. “We were far away in the bush with our cattle, that’s why we missed the campaign but we have no problem with immunizing our children. We want them to be healthy, we have no reason to say refuse. Now that they are immunized, I don’t have to worry about that disease anymore,“ she said, smiling.
In Chad, because of conflict, or multiple displacements – inherent to the nomadic lifestyle – millions of children miss out on the basic vaccines they need to stay healthy and have a fair chance in life. Immunization against measles is an affordable and simple way to protect these children, especially the most underserved and marginalized communities.
Since the beginning of 2016, 318 cases of measles were detected in Chad. In total seven health districts in 4 regions were targeted to launch a mass immunization campaign. With support from the European Union’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department (ECHO), UNICEF launched an emergency immunization campaign. The response mobilized more than 700 vaccinators and community workers to reach close to 415 000 children aged 9 months to 14 years of age.
Credit: UNICEF Chad/2016/Bahaji