In a small Integrated Health Unit in Garoua-boulai, in Cameroon’s East region, a group of 20 young women draped in hijabs with babies in their arms, gather to listen to an educative session on the importance of vaccination.
Their tutor, Mbeutcha Ngantcha Agnes, a Mid-wife, apt in speaking several local languages, tells the women why vaccination is important for their babies in Fulfulde. “Vaccination protects your babies from 14 diseases”, She says. “Even when you forget the date of your appointment, don’t be shy to come with your baby immediately you remember” Mrs. Mbeutcha added.
Asked what her job’s challenges are, the Mid-wife said; “It is simply too much for just few persons. I am in charge of vaccinating five communities. This is too much, given that I have to first of all convince the women on the importance of vaccination, before vaccinating their babies”.
“Equally, most of my communities are difficult to access and very insecure. But this is a commitment I have taken. And I am sure with such advanced strategies, all children in the region will be covered”.
Agnes’ challenges were also echoed by Dr. Francis Texang, Head of the Integrated Health Unit at the Gado Badere refugee camp.
Dr. Texang Francis revealed that in difficult to access zones like Kpama, Dahio, Bordon, most Community Health Agents often risk being kidnapped and killed by unidentified armed men.
“Most Community Health Agents in border localities are often accompanied by security forces to these insecure and enclave communities to perform their job,” the Doctor said.
Insufficient storage Facilities also an issue
Health authorities and technical partners working on children vaccination in Cameroon’s East region, equally revealed that insufficient storage facilities for vaccines, is limiting them from achieving full coverage on childhood vaccination in the region.
The health workers took turns in detailing the region’s specific challenges concerning childhood vaccination to the press during a recent guided tour to some integrated health facilities and vaccination sites in the region.
According to official statistics from the data management Unit for the Expanded Programme on Vaccination, PEV, out of the 224 vaccine storage facilities across the region, only about 90 are functional.
This assertion is corroborated by various health workers who spoke to this reporter at the Regional Hospital in Bertoua and the Gado Badzere refugee camp in Garoua-Boulai.
At the Bertoua Regional Hospital, a PEV official, Rota Marie Francoise, decried insufficient cold chains. For Francis Texang, of the Integrated Health Unit at the Gado Badere refugee camp, the situation of storage facilities at the refugee camp is even more critical with the lack of electricity. To him, only solar refrigerators can help ease the vaccination exigencies in the camp.
As solution, Health workers in the region, supported by technical partners like UNICEF, have developed what they call advanced strategies, where community health agents approach nursing mothers who live far away from vaccination sites. Through this strategy women in difficult to access areas are gathered in a community head’s house, where vaccination is done for them by community health agents.
They equally beckon on people of good will and for more technical partners to help save lives by responding to needs of full child vaccination in the region. To them, children vaccination is one of the most powerful and most cost-effective health interventions.