12 June 2015

Vaccinations: Protecting children from disease

Bulgan-Erdene playing ©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Sanjaakhand Nansalmaa

Bulgan-Erdene is playing with his mother on the floor with his toys. They have an easy bond and are very affectionate with each other. When the camera comes out Bulgan-Erdene comes alive. He poses for the camera, playfully smiling and giggling.

“He is a happy, smiley child,” his grandmother Erdene Jargal says. “He doesn’t really walk yet, but he is very active, crawling everywhere”.

Bulgan-Erdene and his mother Sugarma live with her parents in Erdene-Bulgan soum (district), in Khuvsgul, northern Mongolia. In the small wooden house, Sugarma’s parents, Erdene Jargal and Batkhishig and three siblings live. The community is small and is very far from Khuvsgul’s provincial capital.

Sugarma has a disability and is unable to speak or hear. Her mother, Bulgan-Erdene’s grandmother, helps her take care of her son.

“We make sure Bulgan-Erdene gets his vaccines on time,” Erdene Jargal explains. “Every time his vaccines are due, all three of us got to the local health center and get it done. I really think it helps protects them from getting sick”.

She says that Bulgan-Erdene is very healthy. “I really think the vaccinations keep him healthy”.

Erdene Jargal and Sugarma attend information sessions held by the vaccination nurse at their soum (district) health center. “I get my information about vaccines from the local center,” Erdene Jargal explains. “When there is an information session I go and learn more”.

Another woman named Erdene Jargal is the vaccination nurse at the Erdene-Bulgan health center and has given Bulgan-Erdene all of his vaccines. For the past five years she has been the soum’s vaccinator, and before that she was a nurse with the center.

“We have nearly 750 children in the soum and all have been vaccinated,” Erdene Jargal says proudly. “I am always chasing families to make sure their children are getting their vaccinations on time”.

She explains that during summer, June to September, families will bring their children to the clinic to get vaccinated. “However, between October and May I go the families and give the children their shots. Sometimes I can be away for a few days vaccinating children”.

Erdene Jargal proudly explains that since she started vaccinating the local children there has not been an outbreak of diseases that can be vaccinated against in the community.

Making a difference

Bulgan-Erdene, Sugarma and Erdene Jargal 
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Sanjaakhand Nansalmaa

Dr Lkhagvasuren is the head of the Public Health Unit at the Department of Health in Khuvsgul says Erdene-Bulgan’s high vaccination rate is not unusual for the province.

“We have a very high vaccination rate across the province, with rates of 98 and 99 per cent in many districts,” Dr Lkhagvasuren says. “None of the soums (districts) have a vaccination rate of below 95 per cent”.

“We are very proud of this, especially given the challenges vaccination nurses face when reaching children,” she says. Dr Lkhagvasuren continues “They have to travel very fair distances, often in extreme weather, to reach nomadic and herder children. It can be very tough work”.

For children who are not reached by the vaccination nurses, the Ministry of Health and the local health departments across Mongolia, hold national vaccination weeks twice per year to ensure children who missed out on their immunizations get their shots.

Dr Lkhagvasuren says she is very happy with the vaccine programme. “Before I became a doctor there were so many preventable diseases like measles, whooping cough and polio. Sometimes new parents don’t even know about these diseases because they are so uncommon because children don’t get them because they are vaccinated”.

UNICEF’s support

Erdene Jargal, the soum’s vaccinator 
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Sanjaakhand Nansalmaa

UNICEF Mongolia’s Health Specialist Surenchimeg Vanchinkhuu says that immunizations keep children alive and healthy by protecting them against disease.

“Vaccinations are the most powerful tools to end preventable child deaths,” Surenchimeg explains. “Worldwide almost a third of deaths of all children under-5 are from diseases that can be prevent by vaccinations. That is one child every 20 seconds that dies from a disease that is preventable by vaccine”.

“Mongolia has a very high immunization rate of over 95 per cent, which is a fantastic achievement,” Surenchimeg explains. “UNICEF is very proud to support the Ministry of Health and local health departments in their vaccination programmes through assisting them to procure vaccines at the lowest possible cost and to provide refrigerators to keep vaccines at the optimal temperatures so they are their most effective”.

“But it is important that we do maintain people’s awareness of the need to vaccinate their children,” she continues. “It is important that we continue to raise awareness of the importance of vaccinations, so that every parent in Mongolia knows and understands the benefits of immunizing their children.”

For Bulgan-Erdene’s family they have already gotten that message. “We never want to miss a vaccination,” Erdene Jargal says. “We want Bulgan-Erdene to grow up strong and healthy and be a productive member of society, maybe a teacher. And vaccinating him will help achieve that”.

Author

Zetty Brake, Communications and External Relations Officer, UNICEF Mongolia

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