Delivering essential vaccines in Kenya’s nomadic Gosha community

Kenya is raising awareness about vaccines to reduce the number of zero-dose children who never receiving a single dose.

Vaccination-against-measles-in-Mandera-County_h2.jpg
Vaccination against measles in Mandera County

 

While Kenya has been routinely immunising children for diseases such as measles, poliomyelitis, influenza, and rubella, doing so in remote or nomadic communities is challenging and COVID-19 has made it harder still. 

The nomadic Gosha community, living in a remote part of northern Kenya, grapple with inter-community wars and acute drought, in addition to health challenges. 

Clinicians have started vaccinating the children of the Gosha community, many of whom have never received a single vaccine dose – so-called “zero-dose” children – with vaccines for measles, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, and tetanus.

Kenya’s government has been looking for ways to increase immunisation through addressing some of these challenges. “The national government, led by the Cabinet Secretary for Interior Security, Fred Matiang’i, has agreed to reinforce the security within the borders of the Gosha tribe to ensure harmony,” says the Deputy Governor of Mandera County, Mohamed Arai.

This has allowed the Ministry of Health of Mandera County, in coordination with the Red Cross, to start immunising children against measles and polio.

Vaccination against measles in Mandera County
Vaccination against measles in Mandera County

Challenging vaccine hesitancy 

However, there has been some resistance from community elders.

Community leader Mohammud Duale, says, “I'm nearly 75 years old. I've never received these vaccines, yet I have lived all this while without major health problems. While some of you doctors may perceive it as ignorance, it’s a fact for my family and me.”

This is not surprising to Dr Mohamud Adan Mohamed, CECM of Health Services for the Mandera County Government, as he is aware not everyone immediately understands the benefit of vaccines.

Dr Adan addressing members of the Gosha community on the importance of immunisation.
Dr Adan addressing members of the Gosha community on the importance of immunisation.

He says, “People from the Gosha community may not know the benefits of immunising their children against lethal diseases like polio. I take their hostility towards this immunisation exercise as a challenge, and we now have to educate them on the benefits.”

Fighting resistance by raising awareness

The area leaders, Red Cross team, county nurses, and other medical officers have been holding campaigns and awareness meetings to ensure that even the least educated understand the benefits of vaccinating against deadly yet vaccine-preventable diseases.

Mr Noor Haji addressing the press after bringing his child to be vaccinated against measles.
Mr Noor Haji addressing the press after bringing his child to be vaccinated against measles.

While only a few community members turned out at the beginning of the exercise, as word spread, more people emerged. True to his word, Dr Adan has been at the front line of awareness-raising.

“I’m delighted by the progress the team of doctors and we, community leaders, have achieved. Daily, we see more parents turning up to learn of the wonders of these vaccines,” states the Area Sub-Chief, Ali Hassan.

Clinicians have started vaccinating the children of the Gosha community, many of whom have never received a single vaccine dose – so-called “zero-dose” children – with vaccines for measles, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, and tetanus.

“My two kids have received their doses of measles immunisation. I’m happy to be among the stewards of reducing the numbers of unvaccinated children,” declares Amina Noor, a member of the community.

The Gosha community is starting to understand that vaccinated children reduce the spread of deadly diseases, thereby keeping the community disease-free and avoiding premature deaths among kids.

However challenging the road might be, the County Government of Mandera and the Government of Kenya are working towards minimising the numbers of zero-dose children to less than 15% by the end of 2022.