PanAfricare Blog

#IntheNews: Turkana banks on medical outreaches to protect children from measles


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Published on the Nation on

Nakitokiron is one of the remote villages in Loima Sub-county where residents must trek for at least 18 kilometres to the neighbouring Lomil to get health services at a local dispensary. That is why Ms Akutan Imoron and other mothers lack access to crucial vaccines to protect their children from life-threatening diseases.

But there is hope. Medical outreaches have been important in bringing healthcare services, including vaccines, closer to the people in remote villages.

Turkana County government and development partners such as PanAfricare Kenya that is funded by Rockefeller Foundation through Amref has stepped up medical outreaches in far-flung villages. Residents are now capitalising on the ongoing Vaccine Action Network Project to ensure their children are protected against measles.

Ms Imoron’s son, who recently marked his third birthday, had not yet been vaccinated despite the latest measles outbreak that claimed 20 lives between March and December last year in neighbouring Turkana West-Sub county. “I was among the first people to arrive at the outreach site, which is under a tree, to ensure he received necessary vaccination services just as I had been advised by a community health promoter,” she said.

Francis Eloiloi, the nursing officer in charge of Lomil dispensary, said; “We try to ensure that we return to medical outreaches sites every two weeks to evaluate the impact and screen more people, thereby addressing missed opportunities for vaccination and handling dropouts from the routine immunisation,” Mr Eloiloi said.

Loima Sub-county medical officer Abdiraman Musa noted that medical outreaches in remote areas are helping bring health services closer to a community that is constantly moving.

“The pastoralist nature of the communities here is a big challenge as they keep migrating further from the few established health facilities. The best approach, therefore, has been outreaches, where we offer vaccination, curative, nutritional and antenatal services,” Dr Musa said.

He said the expansive sub-county covering an area of 9,113 square kilometres has only 40 working health facilities that are serving a population of 123,000 people

Dr Musa also cited the challenge of porous borders with neighbouring Uganda and South Sudan, where there is always an outbreak of viral diseases due to lack of coordinated movement and screening. “Access to health services remains a key challenge for most residents, with many forced to travel a distance of  35 kilometres against the World Health Organization’s recommended distance of five kilometres to access a health facility. The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child by changing tact like embracing health outreaches,” Dr Musa explained.

He noted that with the current county basic vaccination coverage of 65 per cent, which is less than the 80 per cent recommended by World Health Organization, concerted efforts are critical.

Turkana’s Health Department and the United Nations Children’s Fund Kenya are working on a microplan for emergency response to measles outbreaks in high-risk sub-counties of Turkana West, Lokichoggio, Loima and Turkana North.

“The main objective is to strengthen routine vaccination, increase surveillance, and stop the transmission in the high-risk sub-counties. The plan will provide a roadmap for partners’ support,” County Chief Officer for Preventive and Promotive Peter Lomorukai said.