Bangladesh has vaccinated nearly 20 million children against measles in a campaign that was carried out by the Bangladesh government with support from WHO, Rotary International, UNICEF and volunteers from organizations such as the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS). Mass vaccination campaigns like the one that has just come to an end will reduce death and disease rates in Bangladesh and will help the Bangladesh government to achieve its Millenium Development Goal (MDG) 4 initiative which aims to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds.
Reaching those under five
The recent vaccination campaign began on 14 February and ended on 28 February. The aim was to vaccinate all children between nine months to five years of age for measles with an additional polio vaccine given out to all children under the age of five. This was the first major nation-wide campaign against measles in Bangladesh since 2005 and 2006, when about 35 million children were vaccinated. That campaign represented the largest measles campaign in the world.
Though there have been no significant measles outbreaks in Bangladesh since the last campaign, measles continues to be a very contagious disease. If one child gets infected with measles, the probability of the rest of the children in the locality getting infected is high. Besides, there is no proper treatment for measles, so prevention is the best way to reduce the child mortality rate from this disease. The number of child deaths from measles is very low. However,about 25 per cent to 33 per cent of young children remain at risk, especially those born since the last immunization campaign. That is why the Bangladesh government proceeded with the measles vaccination campaign; to give all the children the opportunity to be protected against measles.
Spreading the word
In order to help the Bangladesh government to achieve its goal, Bangladesh Red Crescent Societiy volunteers worked constantly in the vaccination camps. Trained BDRCS volunteers went directly to people’s homes and asked parents to bring their children to the vaccination location. According to the reports from the eleven districts which were covered by BDRCS and the volunteers, the government target in all areas has been reached.
Abu Lashkar, a government paramedic at the Char Sonakair camp in Gopalganj district confirmed that, without the help of BDRCS volunteers, it would have been very tough for them to achieve the vaccination target. He noted that “BDRCS volunteers came to the camp by 7.30 each morning. One or two stayed in the camp location and the rest went to adjacent areas and motivated the parents who had not yet vaccinated their children to come to the camp to get their children vaccinated”. He also mentioned that the volunteers really helped in managing the crowd, and by comforting children and holding their hands when they were vaccinated. “It was a tremendous task,” he said, “but it has been fulfilled due to the active participation and hard labour of BDRCS volunteers”.
To help ensure that parents were aware of the opportunity to have their children vaccinated, BDRCS developed and implemented a highly effective communication strategy, which included rallies, street songs and street drama in the marketplace, bus terminals, ferry stations and near the school premises.