This World Immunization Week, Hôpital Albert Schweitzer celebrates the success of vaccines around the world: a widespread immunization campaign eradicated smallpox by 1980, and worldwide, we are progressing towards the eradication of other diseases like polio and measles. Here in Haiti, HAS is proud to be a strong part of the Haitian Ministry of Health’s efforts to eliminate child mortality caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.
Since 2006, Eronie has been the head of two of HAS’ health clinics, working to ensure that people in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti have access to vital healthcare. Last Friday, she gave birth to her second child, Sarah. In less than a week, Eronie was back at the Deschapelles health clinic, newborn daughter in her arms. She had come to ensure a healthy future for Sarah by vaccinating her against tuberculosis and polio.
The health agents present that day gathered around to meet the beautiful new baby, showering her with kisses and compliments. Eronie addressed the crowd of approximately 30 mothers, fathers, and grandmothers who had come for their children’s immunizations. “HAS gives these vaccines free of charge,” she tells them. “Don’t think that because it’s free, it’s not important; we provide them to you for free so that everyone can have access to them. They are essential.” Even though she is on maternity leave, she didn’t hesitate to join the team of health agents as they began the day’s education session about family planning and breast feeding practices before the immunizations were given.
Eronie was wearing two hats this Wednesday: she was a grateful recipient of vaccines for her family and an impassioned advocate for the immunization of all children by age five. “I came today to vaccinate my baby, but also to reinforce to everyone the message: when we all immunize, it’s good for everyone.” The proud mother then administered the vaccines to her child, demonstrating their true importance to all others present.
Our vaccination efforts go smoothly thanks to the work of 46 experienced community health workers throughout our service area. They work in their home communities to screen children for malnutrition, distribute vitamins and micronutrients, conduct pre- and post-natal home visits, and give educational sessions on a range of health topics – and administer life-saving immunizations. Importantly, health workers perform a home visit within the first few days of a mother giving birth. During this visit, the health worker informs the mother of the recommended vaccination schedule, beginning as early as three days into an infant’s life, and gives her a health card in which her child’s immunizations and other milestones will be tracked.
It is thanks to these health workers, Eronie says, that HAS’ unique integrated system provides truly comprehensive healthcare. “People trust in their local health workers, and they trust in the system of HAS: we have quality, accessible care in the community, but if anything goes wrong, the hospital is there to back them up. This trust keeps people coming for vaccines.”
HAS’ immunization efforts pay off for the Artibonite Valley:
- All children are vaccinated according to the Haitian Ministry of Health’s standards: MR (measles and rubella), polio, DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus), and BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, an anti-tuberculosis vaccine).
- HAS gives nearly 1,000 BCG vaccinations every year to children under five to reduce the likelihood of TB infection for future generations.
- In 2012, an average of 1,900 children under age five became fully vaccinated every year, thanks to the HAS immunization program, an increase of 19 percent from 2011.
- According to UNICEF, 59 percent of 1-year old children in Haiti have been immunized against measles; in the HAS service area, 67 percent of children 0-11 months received this vaccine last year.
The results really make a difference: HAS has helped make Haiti certified polio-free, and we’ve functionally eliminated tetanus and measles from our service area, though we still see occasional cases from outside the hospital’s service area. We at HAS are extremely proud to collaborate with the Haitian Ministry of Health to further the global effort to eradicate these and other preventable diseases via immunization. This week, stay tuned to our Facebook page and Twitter (@HASHaiti) for more about immunizations at HAS!