Child Health Days Initiative
Child Health Days Initiative, a UNICEF-supported program, brings primary health care and vaccines to remote villages around the world. UHN is donating one vaccine for every flu shot received during this year’s flu campaign. (Photo: © UNICEF/UNI181421/Syzdlik)

Somalian barber Abdi Ibrahim knows all too w​ell the importance of vaccinating children against life-threatening illnesses. Last year, he lost his two-year-old daughter, Nagat, to measles.

"My daughter got sick when I was traveling," Abdi explains. "When I came back home three days later, she had a fever and had stopped eating even her favourite food."

Despite Abdi's desperate efforts to save her, five days later, Nagat passed away.  Abdi didn't get Nagat vaccinated because the clinic was far away. He still blames himself for her death.

Grieving the loss of young daughter, Abdi lived with the daily fear of losing his 16-month old daughter Sahra to a similarly preventable disease.  This was all changed by the arrival of the UNICEF-supported Child Health Days Initiative – a joint program with the World Health Organization (WHO) - that brings primary health care and vaccines for children, to underserved areas.

For this year's UHN flu campaign, UHN collaborated with UNICEF for a shot-for-shot initiative. For every flu shot received at UHN by staff, physicians, students or volunteers, UHN will donate a polio, measles or tetanus vaccine to a child in need.

Moving to a remote village

When they were forced to flee their home in Mogadishu in the 1990s due to a lack of safety, Abdi and his family moved to the remote north-western village of Hayaayabo.

Abdi, his pregnant wife and their four children live in a hut made out of rags, and survive on Abdi's modest income of about two dollars a day.  The village has no access to primary health care, and the nearest water point is 2.5 kilometres away, making basic hygiene a daily difficulty.

Now, with UNICEF-supported Child Health Days Initiative, children are immunized against diseases including measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. Children are also screened for nutrition status, and they are provided vitamin A supplements, oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets.

The initiative is targeting more than 1.6 million children under five and 1.8 million women of child-bearing age across Somalia. The goal of such an initiative is simple – to saving children's lives.

Abdi's youngest receives her vaccine

Abdi's young daughter, Sahra, was just two months younger than Nagat was at the time of her passing when the Child Health Day workers arrived to Abdi's village.

"I was so happy to know that the team will come to our village," he said. As the Child Health Day practitioners vaccinated Sahra, Abdi watched in happy relief as his daughter received the vaccines that will safeguard her right to a safe and healthy future.

Thanks to the Child Health Day Initiative's visit to Hayaayabo, Sahra joined the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have been treated by previous rounds of the campaign.

UNICEF on immunization:

  • It's one of the most cost-effective public health interventions to date.
  • As a direct result of immunization, polio is on the verge of eradication.
  • Deaths from measles declined 79 per cent worldwide between 2000 and 2014.
  • As of Aug. 2015, 38 of 59 priority countries have eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus.
  • Immunization coverage for the six major vaccine-preventable diseases – pertussis, childhood tuberculosis, tetanus, polio, measles and diphtheria – has risen significantly since the WHO's Expanded Programme on Immunization began in 1974. 
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