Elizabeth Auma’s baby was six-months-old and was due for a polio vaccine when nurses went on strike.
However, Auma, just like 499,999 other mothers with young children had to wait for three months until the nurses got back to work for their children to receive the life-saving vaccines.
Vaccination, especially that of babies, is one of those religiously followed routines in most Kenyan families. Important as it is, however, vaccination is often made difficult by conflicting information, influences from authoritative organisations and lately, access to the services.
Out of every 1,000 children, 39 die due to diseases that can be prevented by vaccination.
Auma’s son is turning 12 months next week but she is afraid of the consequences if there is any major disease outbreak in the country, since he has not received the vaccines that he missed.
At six months, Auma’s baby ought to have been vaccinated against flu and given Vitamin A. At seven months he should have gotten the second dose of the flu vaccine. At nine months, measles vaccine and the first dose of the chickenpox one should have been administered.
He was also to be vaccinated against meningitis. At 11 months, he was to get the second dose of chicken pox.
You see, these vaccines, according to the country’s immunisation framework, ought to be given at the scheduled ages if they are to effectively work. However, about two months since nurses resumed duty, interestingly, Auma’s child is yet to be vaccinated.
“I went to the hospital and requested if my son could be given the vaccination that he missed but the nurse in charge told me that the vaccines were not enough and that if all the mothers would request the same, then no child would get the current vaccination,” says Auma.
“If I had the money, I would have gone to a private facility.”
Her son represents more than 5,000 other children in Kisumu County that may have missed vaccination during the nurses’ strike, exposing them to preventable diseases.
Among the vaccines many children below five years may have missed included tuberculosis, polio and measles, says Kisumu Director of Health, Dr Dickens Onyango.
To mitigate the effects of the health workers’ strike, Dr Onyango said the county had distributed drugs that were stocked in public hospitals to private facilities to offer free immunisation to children.
He added that no mother should skip immunisation since they would be risking the lives of their children.
Since the government is not sure whether hundreds of thousands of children who missed their vaccination were getting them in public facilities, the country is staring at a huge health crisis and the disease profile in the country is likely to be affected, for the worst.
When a child misses a polio vaccine and there is an attack, for instance, the likelihood of that child going down with the virus is huge because the child is not covered.
“Vaccines are the safest way to protect children and pregnant mothers from a long list of serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses,” says Dr Walter Otieno, a western Kenya based paediatrician.
“They protect children by preparing their immune systems to recognise and fight serious, deadly diseases.”
According to data from the Ministry of Health released in October, the national immunisation coverage dropped from 85 to 68 per cent due to the five-month strike by nurses.
The data also indicated that the number of children who were not vaccinated rose from 157,584 to 265,523 between January and July, exposing Kenya to the risk of diseases such as polio, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.
From the statistics, skilled care during pregnancy declined by 44 per cent while deliveries in health facilities reduced by 28,000 from 85,000 between January and July.