What are the main vaccine priorities for Haiti?
Haiti has made great progress to eradicate polio. We are determined to maintain that and also to eliminate measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. We are mainly fighting against measles, rubella, polio, diphtheria and tetanus.
What’s the strategy to reach kids who need vaccines in Haiti?
Various immunizations are conducted for children under the age of one throughout the country. 2016 is the first year that we have been able to give supplementary doses of DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis) to children ages 12 to 23 months. Around 1.9 million children under five will be reached through this new program.
How have you gotten to those hardest to reach kids? What are some of the obstacles that you must overcome?
UNICEF in collaboration with the Haitian Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), supports the implementation of a program called Reach Every District or RED which aims to reach every child. Plans are established annually at health institutions throughout the country to work out how each community will have access to vaccinations for their children.
The main obstacles are the lack of appropriate budgets to pay health workers, which in turn makes it hard to recruit and keep trained health workers. There are also many areas that are geographically very difficult to reach.
What is most encouraging to you about UNICEF’s work in Haiti with respect to vaccine implementation? What’s working?
In 2014, a national strategy for strengthening routine immunization was developed. UNICEF has played a critical part in rolling out that plan throughout Haiti. Education and communication materials including radio spots, posters and leaflets were produced and distributed and grassroots work has taken place to get the word out to families to vaccinate their children. In addition to communications and technical support, UNICEF has provided financial support for the implementation of the RED approach in 70 municipalities out of 144 municipalities. It’s exciting to see the progress.
UNICEF is also supporting the Haitian Health Ministry in making sure solar refrigeration is available and that health institutions are able to get the vaccines and related supplies they need when they need them, including purchasing vaccines for the country. GAVI (the global body for vaccines and immunizations) is providing financial support for solar equipment.
What are you most worried about on getting vaccines to the hardest to reach kids in Haiti?
Haiti can be a very difficult environment in terms of geography. Access is hard for more than 40 percent of the population. That’s why it’s essential to have solar powered refrigeration, to protect the vaccine doses as they move around the country.
What kind of sacrifices do mothers have to make to get their kids vaccinated?
For many mothers, their biggest challenge is the distance between the health clinic and where they live, especially in the communities where the RED approach has not yet been implemented. They often must walk more than two hours to get to where the vaccines will be given, leaving work and other daily survival activities to protect their child from these diseases.
Take Action Challenge
Watch the journey of a mother and child and the journey of a vaccine across Haiti in this beautiful new video from the Shot@Life campaign, highlighting UNICEF’s incredible work. This week moms and dads, nurses and students, doctors and advocates are in Washington DC asking their elected officials to support this work and make sure that every child around the world gets a shot at a happy and healthy life.
All photos courtesy of UNICEF