21 July 2016

Together against measles




Otgoo and her daughter Munkh-Undral outside the “Ulziit Manal” family health center. A banner for the SIA campaign is hanging in the back.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel

       It was 11 o’clock in the morning at the “Ulziit Manal” family health center of the Songinokhairkhan district. An unusual site for a small family health center greeted us, a hall filled with crowd, as dozens of young people in their 20’s were lined up to get vaccinated against measles. 30 year-old Otgonbayar (Otgoo) was one of them.

Otgoo is a nomadic herder, and she lives with her husband in the Bayantsagaan village of Tuv province in central Mongolia. The couple has a 9 year-old daughter Munkh-Undral, who goes to school in Ulaanbaatar.

Few days ago, when the nationwide measles Supplementary Immunization Activity (SIA) campaign started, Otgoo received a call from her village health center doctor, as well as an SMS from the Ministry of Health and Sports that she need to be vaccinated

 

Otgoo is getting a measles vaccine shot at “Ulziit Manal” family health center.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel


         At the time, I was already in Ulaanbaatar to visit my daughter. I was worried that I might miss the vaccination, because I learned that it was really important. All the news on TV were talking about children dying from measles, and young people catching the disease. So I asked our doctor what I can do, and he explained that I can get the vaccine shot at any health center. “

When she came to the “Ulziit Manal” family health center, all she needed was to tell the doctors her national ID number. Then the nurse asked her to fill out the consent form, and she was able to receive the vaccination immediately.

“By getting vaccinated, we can not only protect ourselves, but also our family from diseases. My daughter has all her routine immunization done as well. With this nationwide immunization campaign, I hope that the outbreak will stop and children can be healthier.”



Why vaccinate the youth?

Despite its certification as measles-free country in 2014, the current outbreak started in March 2015, most likely due to an imported measles virus.  As of April 2016, a total of 23,888 confirmed and suspected cases of measles were reported. As a result of measles complications, 105 children died, 90% of which are infants up to 8 months of age who has not received any dose of measles vaccinations.

Although the vaccination coverage rate in Mongolia is very high at 96%, analysis demonstrated that there was a considerable immunization gap among certain groups of populations.  Particularly, youth ages 18-30 years old and young infants before they are eligible to receive the first dose of measles vaccine at 9 months of age, were the most affected group during the outbreak. 
The only way to close the immunity gap for both groups was to conduct a vaccination campaign with measles-containing vaccine. Thus, the Government of Mongolia has decided to conduct the “Together against measles” - SIA for people aged 18-30 years old in May 2016, targeting to reach over 700,000 people.

With UNICEF’s technical and financial assistance, an intensive communication strategy was designed in consultation with the national technical working group, which consisted of WHO, Public Health Institute (PHI) and National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD). The aim of the strategy was to create demand for and build public confidence in the vaccines, especially by the youth, including the hard-to-reach populations such as herders, migrants, temporary residents, and miners.

“In order to have successful SIA coverage, advocacy and social mobilization campaign utilized various channels, especially the ones that have high usage among the youth, namely social media, celebrities, and mobile messaging. Just like the ice bucket challenge, there was also a vaccine challenge going on in the social media. Volunteer community mobilizers have gone door to door to inform hard-to-reach population about the SIA, risks of measles and benefits of vaccination, which in turn increased turnout” explained Mr. Tsogtbaatar, director of PHI. 
 

“By getting vaccinated, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from diseases”. 19 year-old Batzaya showing her finger marking as a proud proof of her vaccination against measles.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel

Ms.Batzaya, a student at the Ach medical institute and a volunteer, also highlighted the role of community mobilizers.

“Thanks to the campaign, I was able to get immunized for free. As a representation of the target group, who are receiving the vaccinations themselves, as medical students, we wanted to help spread information about the SIA. We went out to the neighborhood and streets and tried to give information to as much people as possible about the risks of measles, and benefits of vaccines. After our activities, many young people came to get their vaccine shots. We also helped the nurses in the vaccination process, and learned a lot from them”.

As of 29 May, 2016 the coverage of the Measles SIA is 86.3% or 538,344 target age people have been immunized against measles.

“Saving children’s lives and improving their health is at the core of UNICEF’s work. Most child deaths are preventable by low-cost, high-impact interventions such as immunizations. The current outbreak reminded us that we must always stay prepared and invest in preventative measures. We believe that with the high coverage of SIA, many children’s lives can now be saved” noted UNICEF health specialist Mrs. Surenchimeg.


Author:
 
Enkhzul Altangerel, Digital Communications Consultant at UNICEF Mongolia
 






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