A UNICEF immunisation campaign helps combat deadly outbreaks of measles and polio

By Elissa Jobson

Chou San Kote watches as her son Oratine Rase as he receives polio vaccination from Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation
Chou San Kote watches as her son Oratine Rase as he receives polio vaccination from Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation 24, June 2014 Pagak South Sudanese refugee reception centre, Gambela Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

GAMBELA, ETHIOPIA, 24 JUNE 2014 – At Pagak entry point, on the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan, a long line of parents and their children wait patiently in the intense heat of the refugee registration tent. They anxiously watch as four health workers swiftly administer life-saving vaccinations to the children ahead of them.

UNICEF, in conjunction with the Gambela Region Health Bureau, has rolled out a programme of vaccination for South Sudanese children seeking asylum in Ethiopia as a result of the deadly civil conflict currently raging in their home country. Since fighting began in December last year and the first refugees crossed into Ethiopia at the beginning of January 2014, UNICEF has helped vaccinate 91,785 children against measles and 74,309 against polio. A further 41,333 children have been given vitamin A supplements to help combat malnutrition.

“Registration and screening is done by ARRA (the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs) and UNHCR,” says Lemmi Kebede, supervisor of supplementary immunisation at Pagak entry point and Kule refugee camp. Priority, he adds, is given to pregnant women and lactating women with children less than six months old. “After registration, the children come to the vaccination point. Because levels of immunisation are low in South Sudan, eligible children are given vaccinations irrespective of whether they have had them in South Sudan or not. They are given an immunisation card which they take with them when they are transferred to the refugee camps,” Lemmi explains.

Health and nutrition
Meaza, a health professional gives a measles jab to a South Sudanese refugee baby being comforted by his mother in Pagak South Sudanese refugee reception centre. Gambela Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

Tesluoch Guak, just two and a half weeks old, is one of the beneficiaries of this programme. He cries as the health assistant gives him his measles injection. Despite her baby’s discomfort, his mother, Chuol Gadet, is pleased that Tesluoch is receiving his vaccination. “I understand that this is important for the health of my child,” she says.

So far, all the refugees have been willing to have their children immunised. “There is no resistance from the parents,” Lemmi confirms. “They are informed before they register as asylum seekers that their children will be vaccinated and why this is needed. There have been no refusals even though the parents haven’t previously received much health education. They have faced many challenges on the way to Ethiopia and they are open to our help.”

Chuol was heavily pregnant when she left her home in Malou county. She travelled on foot for days with her three children, aged 10, 7 and 4, to reach safety in Pagak where she delivered Tesluoch. Her husband, a solider in the government army, doesn’t even know that he has a new-born son. “The journey was hard for me. It wasn’t easy to find food and water. I don’t have words to express how difficult it was.”

The health situation of the newly arrived refugees is very poor. “In general, most of the asylum seekers are malnourished when they come from South Sudan. They have walked long distances without much food. Many have malaria and respiratory tract infections. They are really in a stressed condition,” says Bisrat Abiy Asfaw, a health consultant for UNICEF Ethiopia. This makes them highly susceptible to communicable diseases like measles and polio, he continues.

In February and March there was an outbreak of measles in Pagak – at the time more than 14,000 refugees were waiting to be registered and transferred to refugee camps within Ethiopia. UNICEF quickly rolled out a vaccination programme and helped ensure that children with signs of infection were quickly diagnosed, quarantined and treated.

“We were detecting new cases every day,” says Bisrat. “We tried to vaccinate all the children. We did a campaign on measles to increase and develop immunity within the refugee community.

The focus of the vaccination programme has been on the registration sites, although immunisation also takes place at the refugee camps. “Our strategy is to vaccinate the children as soon as possible after they enter the country, and that means working seven days a week. We are aiming for 100% coverage,” Bisrat says. And the strategy appear to be working. “The cases of measles has significantly decreased and we have had no reports of measles during the last 6 weeks,” Bisrat affirms.

Ethiopia hosted the 3rd Africa’s Nutrition Security Partnership Annual Review Meeting

By Selamawit Negash

Ten month old Hanan Mohammed Ibrahim has her mid upper arm circumference measured
Ten month old Hanan Mohammed Ibrahim has her mid upper arm circumference measured ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Getachew

Malnutrition in Africa is at present one of the leading causes of mortality among children under five. Data indicate that malnutrition including intra uterine growth restriction, stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies contribute to up to 45per cent of all child deaths in Africa.  In sub-Saharan Africa, 40 per cent of children under 5 years of age are stunted. Food and nutrition security in Africa, in particular in Sub Saharan Africa has hardly improved over the last decade, despite many initiatives at global and regional level.

There are evidences that all global advocacy initiatives need country examples – champions that can show in practice, and not just in theory, how to achieve results when resources are scarce and the challenges are great. The European Union (EU) and UNICEF partner to improve nutrition security in Africa at regional level and in a total of four target countries Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda and Ethiopia. The Africa Nutrition Security Partnership (ANSP) programme that is being implemented in 2012-2015 is a multi-donor initiative of in total €21 million with the support from the EU amounting to €15 million. The programme aims at increasing the commitment to nutrition in terms of policies, budgets, and effective programming and implementation. The programme fosters high-level policy engagement to nutrition at continental, regional and national levels and contributes to scaling up of high-impact nutrition interventions in the four target countries by integrating nutrition goals into broader health, development and agricultural efforts.

Ethiopia hosted the 3rd Africa’s Nutrition Security Partnership Annual Review Meeting from 14 to 15 October 2014. Participants from the government of Ethiopia EU, UNICEF as well as Cornell University from continental, regional and country level organisations discuss accomplishments, bottlenecks to implementations and sharing experiences and best practices among ANSP beneficiary countries.

Group Photo: African Nutrition Security Partnership (ANSP) 3rd Annual Review Meeting
Group Photo: African Nutrition Security Partnership (ANSP) 3rd Annual Review Meeting ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

Good progresses is made towards the achievements of the ANSP objectives in all of the four ANSP result areas of policy, capacity, information system and programme scale up. It is clear that during the meeting, that ANSP is helping to improve the political environment for nutrition with strong continental, regional and national leadership, multisectoral coordination and joint accountability scale up community level nutrition interventions.

2015 will be the last year for ANSP support and partners must work to integrate the efforts being made with the local structures and systems to ensure sustainability. It will be very important to work on synergising continental level activities which aim to create enabling policy environment with community level programmes to scale up key high impact multisectoral nutrition interventions.

The meeting emphasised, the support for nutrition in Africa should continue within the framework of the Post 2015 Nutrition Action Plan.

A Day in the Life of a Well-fed Child: Ethiopia

By Frehiwot Yilma

AMHARA REGION, 05 June 2014 – Kossoye Ambaras is a small lush green village within Wogrea woreda in northern Gondar where it is relatively cold. Amarech Ashager, a 28 years old mother of two, is used to the weather as she lived her whole life here. At the top of her daily agenda is making sure that her family, especially her youngest son, Metages Birhanu of 9 months, is well fed.

Like many of the residents, Amerech does not rise out of bed before 7 a.m., as it is too cold to leave the house. She begins her day by breastfeeding Metages and cooking breakfast for the rest of the household. Her husband, Birhanu Tagel, is a businessman and her eldest son, Muluken, 10, is a third grader. After saying ‘good day’ to Birihanu and Muluken, Amarech will cook breakfast for Metages. Since he was introduced to solid food only three months ago, Metages eats exclusively porridge. Preparing highly nutritious porridge for a child is a technique that Amarech has recently learnt. The base of the porridge, the flour, contains various grains and legumes. For breakfast the added ingredient besides the flour is an egg and minced cabbage. As well as cooking the food, feeding the child to achieve best results is also a discipline. Amarech has learnt to feed her child while also playing and talking to him to keep him engaged.

It takes a village to raise a child

Health Extension workers in Amhara region provide preventive and curative health service to the community
Health Extension workers in Amhara region provide preventive and curative health service to the community ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014

Amarech and other mothers in the village get support from Health Extension Workers (HEWs) on how to properly raise their children. Today, HEWs Habtam Dese and Yeshiwork Tesfahun are weighing the children in the village to monitor their health and development. They too receive assistance from Gebeyaw Alamerew, the woreda Nutrition and Child Health Officer. In a typical session with a HEW, a six-month-old child will receive a vitamin A supplement, while those aged above one year will additionally receive deworming tablets. With the support of UNICEF, this has become a routine service in the woreda.

Out of 18 children weighed by the HEWs , 16 are in the average weight range. Amarech is one of the happy mothers to learn that her son, Metages, weighs 8.6 kilograms, well in the range of a healthy baby’s weight. “I am so happy that he has gained a few more grams since last time,” she says, smiling. After weighing babies in the community, Habtam and Yeshiwork demonstrate how to make a child’s diet balanced and about the importance of using iodised salt. As the child-friendly food preparation simmers over a fire, the two mothers, whose children’s weight was under the average limit, get counselling on how to improve their baby’s weight. Gebeyaw believes the woreda has come a long way. “In previous years, there were up to eight children per month in Kossoye suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), but this year there have been no cases,” he says. “This is because we monitor the children’s growth and give counselling and other packages of support to the mothers at the earliest stage possible, as we did with the two mothers today.” When the food has finished cooking, Habtam and Yeshiwork let the mothers feed the warm nutritious preparation to their children.

Bridging the nutrition gap before sunset

Amarech Ashager breast feeds Metages Birhanu, 9 months old
Amarech Ashager breast feeds Metages Birhanu, 9 months old © UNICEF Ethiopia/2014

The afternoons in Kossye Ambaras are usually foggy this time of the season. Amarech has subsequently decided to do her laundry the following day and so turns to preparing dinner as well as other domestic chores. For Metages, she has a new menu in mind: adding mashed potatoes and carrots to the porridge. She says she will also never forget adding iodised salt to the food. “Habtam has told us that iodised salt is key to a child’s mental growth. She also told us that we have to put in the salt after the food is cooked and out of the oven so that the iodine does not evaporate with the heat,” she says.

Habtam is one of 38,000 government salaried HEWs currently providing nutritional and other support to mothers and children across all regions of Ethiopia. Development partners such as UNICEF are committed to support this initiative. “Nations will face critical bottlenecks to economic growth if a large proportion of their working-age people’s IQ and productivity are limited by under-nutrition,” says Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF representative in Ethiopia.

As the day draws to an end, Amarech’s house becomes lively as the family come together and discuss their experiences. While breastfeeding Metages, Amarech tells her husband about the importance of investing in their children’s diet to ensure their healthy future. “I will feed my children a variety of foods so that they will have a bright mind,” she says with confidence. “And I will be happy if Metages becomes a doctor.”

On the recent Micronutrient Global Conference (June 2-6, 2014), researchers, policy-makers, program implementers, and the private sector has been discussing ways of overcoming micronutrient malnutrition. The forum has been held under the theme of “Building Bridges”, thus emphasising scientific advances and multi-sectoral programming on adequate micronutrient intake. Read more

Health Extension Workers: Key to Reducing Malnutrition in Ethiopia

Eneayehu Beyene and Tena Esubalew, helth extention workers Amhara rigion of Ethiopia.
Eneayehu Beyene and Tena Esubalew, Health Extension Workers in Delma kebele of Machakel woreda Amhara region of Ethiopia. Preparing their monthly report on community based nutrition activities to submit to the health. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

AMHARA REGION, 3 April 2014- Tena (meaning health in Amharic) Esubalew, 25, and Eneayehu Beyene, 27, are the heroines of Delma kebele as they have become the health confidants of the community. Delma Kebele (sub district), which is located in Machakel woreda (district) in the Amhara Region in northwest Ethiopia. Delma is a community 10 kilo meter from an asphalt road with a population of 4,733. As part of the EU funded Africa Nutrition Security Project (ANSP), UNICEF launched a community health programme (2012-2015) in 20 districts across three regions of Ethiopia to help the Government boost the nutritional status of children under two in communities like Delma where child malnutrition has been alarmingly high.

Key to the programme’s success has been the role of community Health Extension Workers (HEWs). From Delma, Tena  and Eneayehu have received intensive training with the support from UNICEF on nutrition so they can effectively carry out health extension duties.

“It is clear to us that three years ago no-one in this community could identify if a child was malnourished or not, this problem has been recently solved through the programme’s awareness strengthening on nutrition,” says Eneayehu

Breast Feeding-Tena Esubalew Health Extension Worker coaches Etenesh Belay positioning of the child for effective breast feeding
Tena Esubalew Health Extension Worker coaches Etenesh Belay positioning of the child for effective breast feeding Amhara rigion of Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

Eneayehu and Tena spend most of their days walking between households in Delma, visiting young mothers in the community and engaging them about the importance of child nutrition. They are trained to identify mild and moderate malnutrition and also growth faltering – based on which they provide age-tailored counselling. Additionally, they can diagnose if a child has Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) with or without complications. If a child is suffering from SAM with complications then the health extension workers will quickly have them referred to a health centre in the nearest town.

The health post where Tena and Eneayehu  work is  situated on top of a hill surrounded by open fields and grazing livestock. It is a busy hub frequented by the community’s young mothers, who are eager to learn about their children’s health status. The walls are plastered with graphs charting the health and development of the community’s under-five children. It is here that growth monitoring of all the community’s children under-two-years is conducted on a monthly basis and compared with World Health Organisation growth standards.

Breast Feeding-Yedeneku Aynalem 38 with her son Barkelegn 10 month
Yedeneku Aynalem 38 with her son Barkelegn 10 month, who is benefiting from community based nutrition Machakel woreda Amhara region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

Yideneku Aynalem, 38, reaches up to a mud shelf in her hut and retrieves an illustrated booklet. “This is a very important document”, she says carefully opening the page to reveal a colourful chart. The HEWs have distributed  the materials printed with the support of UNICEF throughout the community to enable lactating mothers to track their child’s weight. Yideneku points to a graph and traces with her finger a green upward curve signifying the trajectory of a healthy child’s development based on optimum height and weight measurements. She explains with a smile how her 10 month old child Barkelegn Walelign’s growth has started to correlate with the green line on the chart. “I have been given the knowledge and it is now my responsibility to keep putting this learning into action so that my child can remain strong and healthy”, she says. Yidenku’s child is one of 270 children under-two years of age that have benefited from the EU-UNICEF supported package of high impact interventions in Delma.

The community results are encouraging: the rate of underweight young children has reduced from six per cent to one per cent in two years. “At the start of the programme, six children in the village were diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) – this year only two children suffered this extreme health condition”, says, Tena.

In Ethiopia, DFATD support improves community based child and maternal care

By Frehiwot Yilma

Paul Rochon thanks Misa Wondimagen, 25, Health Extension WorkerDERA DISTRICT: AMHARA REGION, 30 October, 2013 – It is early Thursday morning and Gibtsawit Health Post, found in a rural village of Gibtsawit Mariam located 42 kilometres from Bahirdar, is busy with patients. The small room is crowded with mothers who are there to check their babies’ growth; pregnant women having their antenatal care and men and women of the community who are receiving malaria treatment.  Today is a special day, because the health extension workers of the health post are welcoming Mr Paul Rochon, Deputy Minister of International Development, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD) and Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia.

Misa Wondimagegn, a 25 year old health extension worker, supports the community in Gibtsawit village of Dera district with curative and preventative health and nutrition services.  Misa and her colleagues Meseret and Hagere are supported by the health development army (a network of one volunteer to five Households) attend the 13,366 population of the kebele.

Misa has been working at Gibtsawit Health Post for seven years. “It was just when I finished tenth grade that I had the opportunity to join the training for health extension workers. It was hard convincing people to allow me to monitor the growth of their baby and take my advice about what to feed their children,” she says.  “We travelled long distances to reach as many households in the village as possible.  In each of our visit we tried to improve the health seeking behaviour of the community and eventually encouraged them to go to the health post.”

Growth Monitoring and Promotion is the cornerstone in the Community Based Nutrition Programme.  It creates a platform for the health extension workers to contact the caregivers and check the nutritional status of children, detect growth faltering at early stage and provide counselling on Infant and Young Child Feeding practices (IYCF).

“Now, the situation has changed a lot: we have mothers who bring their children for check-up and pregnant women who come for antenatal care. The support we get from UNICEF and the Canadian Government has increased the variety of treatments we provide for the community. We have outpatient treatment for children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition and for pregnant women we give antenatal care and supply iron –folate. We promote good Hygiene and sanitation and we also give treatment for common childhood illnesses like pneumonia malaria and diarrhoea for the community,” Misa explains with smile on her face.

Support in Action

Haimanot Andarge, 20, and her daughter Azeb Abraru, 23 month, relax at home in Dera Woreda in Amhara region of Ethiopia

Since 2007, the Canadian Government has been supporting UNICEF Ethiopia’s interventions in Child Survival with Vitamin A and Zinc Supplementation and Integrated Health System Strengthening as well as routine immunization. Dera is one of the 100 UNICEF supported districts implementing the preventive and curative nutrition interventions. It is implementing Community Based Nutrition (CBN), integrated with other Community Maternal New-born and Child Health Interventions (CMNCH) to prevent child malnutrition, focusing on the first 1000 days: the time between conception and when a child turns two years of age.

In August 2013, 1,247 children attended the monthly Growth Monitoring and Promotion session in Dera enabling Misa and the other 78 health extension workers in the district to identify nutritional status of the children, detect early growth faltering, help the caregivers visualize the status and counsel them on appropriate age specific feeding messages using the Family Health Card as a counselling aid and refer children for further care in a timely manner whenever needed.

Haimanot Andarge, a 20 year old mother of baby girl Azeb, is one of the many mothers in the district who got follow ups from Misa and her colleagues during their pregnancy. “Misa used to come to my house regularly ever since she knew I was pregnant. She gave me vaccines and other supplements which was important for my baby. And when my labour began my husband took me to the health post. Misa encouraged me to deliver at Hamusit Health Centre which referred me to Bahirdar Hospital in time as my delivery was complicated. My baby was delivered safely because the health post was in our village to identify my condition,” Haimanot remembered. Her eyes reflect her fear of what might have happened. “ Azeb, is going to be two this year and  Misa still follows up on her  regularly and gives me advice on what to feed her,” adds Haimanot.

Integrating approaches to combat malnutrition

Holding Plumpy'Nut produced in Ethiopia, Misa Wondimagen, 25, Health Extension WorkerOne of the challenges to the health extension workers was what kind of advice to give to families with low income, regarding additional food for their children. “Health Extension Workers usually explain to families to use variety of cereals, animal protein and vegetables. Those who have money would buy and others barter with what they have produced,” explains Ato Worku Endale, Head of the Dera District Health Office. “Recently we have been integrating the health extension programme with the agriculture extension programme to support farmers on what to produce and how they can support their children and family with variety of food items. In addition, the safety net programme that has been implemented in this particular community allows families with low income to be involved in the income generating activities.”

With the integrated multisectoral approach of the government of Ethiopia and the support of UNICEF and partners such as DFATD, the hard work of health extension workers like Misa and colleagues is paying off.

Revolutionizing treatment of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM)

The support from UNICEF and the Canada Government that started the preventive nutrition programme of Community Based Nutrition linked with provision of WASH facilities has helped reduce the number of children who are malnourished.  According to Dr. Peter Salama, the collaborative work of all stake holders, the availability of treating health posts within the community have made saving a child easier than ever before.

At the end of the visit the team eagerly waits to hear from Misa and her colleagues on their response to the fundamental question of how many children were lost to malnutrition recently.  “There were 27 children diagnosed with Severe Acute malnutrition in July 2012- August 2013. They were treated with the Out-patient Therapeutic Programme (OTP) and 20 have been cured and seven are still on follow up with good prognosis but we have not lost a single child,” Misa explained boastfully.
Group Photo: Joint visit of UNICEF and DFTAD

“It was not easy to change the attitude of the community. When we started, there was no one before us working with the community reaching every  household door to door. We started from nothing. But with the support of donors like  UNICEF and the Canadian Government, I cannot even remember the last time a child died in the community for the last four years,” Misa reminisces.

“It makes me realise that it was not for nothing that I worked so hard at the beginning. I have brought change in my community.” Misa concludes.