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Supporting vaccines & fighting pneumonia in Kenya

Tabitha Mwangi, freelance journalist, Kenya. 

The Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Study (PCVIS) was set up by the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Program in Kilifi in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to analyze the impact of the newly introduced vaccine (PCV10) against pneumonia and pneumococcal disease. But beyond gathering evidence of progress, the project has also brought other benefits to the vaccination system.

Christine Mataza is the sub-county public health nurse within the study area. She has been involved with PCVIS since its inception and tells us about her experience.

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Pneumococcal vaccine in action at a rural Kenyan health centre. Credit: Gavi/Evelyn Hockstein. 

“I was involved in sensitization of health workers and the community during the introduction of PCV10. I helped in the recruitment of data clerks and ensured they had all the support they needed at the health facility.

We are proud that we were able to maintain good cold chain for the vaccine and are happy to hear that the vaccine has had some impact in controlling pneumonia.

However, hosting the study had its own extra perks. We did not have enough storage space for PCV10 vaccines but the project bought 2 large fridges for the Kilifi KEPI (Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunizations) store.

PCVIS collects data in 22 of the 33 health facilities I am in charge of. About 13 of these did not have electricity when the study begun.  PCVIS installed solar panels which remain in the facility until it is connected to the grid.

All fridges in our health facilities are either electric or gas. Due to power blackouts, that can be irregular and disruptive, all facilities with electricity also have an emergency gas supply. Therefore, we have to supply gas to all health facilities.

PCVIS bought us 3 solar fridges – I really wish we could afford more solar fridges, they would save us a lot of trouble. Maintenance of fridges is a major problem in this setting.

You know almost every week I get a call from one of my facilities saying, ‘Matron, the fridge temperature is going up.’

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Photo: Tabitha Mwangi. 

When I get these calls, my thoughts are on how to salvage the vaccines. As technicians repair the fridge, the vaccines are either moved to the nearest facility or they are returned to the main store in Kilifi. Our fridges are aging, so it was a great advantage to us to have these extra fridges added into the system by PCVIS.

Another advantage of being in this study is in tracing defaulters. In the past, defaulters were tracked from hand-written records within each health facility, yet sometimes, a baby would be vaccinated in different facilities as mothers travel to see relatives and friends or join husbands in the town.

Within the demographic surveillance system, data is brought together from all health facilities and using the unique individual identifiers, we can isolate defaulters with more certainty. It has saved us a lot of time.”

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