“I like my people”: A South Sudanese vaccinator tells his story
Once a ‘zero-dose’ child sweating through a bout of measles in the bush during a civil war, and later a refugee, Mhot Ahoch-Thon grew up to become a health worker noted for his commitment and humility.
- 17 August 2023
- 6 min read
- by Winnie Cirino
For nearly a decade, Mhot Ahoch-Thon, a 35-year-old vaccinator at Mingkaman Primary Health Centre (PHCC) in Awerial County, South Sudan, has been transforming the health of his community through his unwavering dedication to vaccination.
"We would inject mangoes to learn how to insert the syringe."
– Mhot Ahoc-Thon
"I started training as a vaccinator with the International Medical Corps (IMC) in 2014, where they would show us how to vaccinate; we would inject mangoes to learn how to insert the syringe. I later joined Comitato Collaborazione Medica (CCM) as an Expanded Program Immunization (EPI) Vaccinator in Aluakluak, and I am now here as an EPI Vaccinator in Mingkaman PHCC in Awerial," Ahoc-Thon says.
Born in a cattle camp in Mapuortdit Payam in Yirol West in 1988 during the liberation struggle of the south from Sudan, Ahoc-Thon says his father joined the rebellion a few years after his birth, forcing the family to live in the bush.
He recalls suffering from measles when he was about 14 years old and described the traditional way of trying to treat it as "uncomfortable. I was isolated in a hot room for three days, I understand so that I could sweat, but that was very uncomfortable, though it was a concept of our mothers those days," Ahoch-Thon explains.
In 2014, his family shifted to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where he began his studies.
“My father told me I was not immunised because I grew up in the bush, where other people or services could not reach.”
– Mhot Ahoc-Thon
"In school, I learned that this immunisation is very important. I was taught about the six killer diseases, their different types of immunisations, and the effects of not receiving them," Ahoch-Thon says. He remembers asking his father whether he was immunised. "My father told me I was not immunised because I grew up in the bush, where other people or services could not reach."
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Ahoch-Thon, a father of two children, says he has fully vaccinated his children and has taken it upon himself to help the children in the community not to miss out on vaccines like he did.
"I like my people. I missed out on the vaccination because I was in the bush, and because I learned about its benefits, I want to ensure that every child in my community is vaccinated, because not everyone is born with strong immunity, but also because immunisation is essential for a child's growth," Ahoch-Thon says.
He works from Mondays to Fridays and vaccinates up to 100 children every day. Every morning, Ahoch-Thon starts by giving the mothers health education.
"We teach them the importance of immunisation, and when they have understood all that, we tell them: if your child receives vaccination on day one of the month, come the same day next month, and don't miss to complete your child's immunisation," he says. He assures mothers of their children's protection if they vaccinate their children: "We also tell them that during outbreaks, if your child is vaccinated, they are safe from the diseases. This encourages them to come."
“When we go to the communities to immunise children, parents also ask us whether we have moved with the vaccine for cholera and HIV/AIDs. This gives us the impression that they understand the benefits of vaccines.”
– Mhot Ahoc-Thon
Ahoch-Thon acknowledges that some mothers in the community are sometimes hesitant about bringing their children for immunisation. Still, he says, when he meets such mothers, he explains the benefits of the vaccines and how expensive it can be for them to refer their children to Juba or outside the country when their health deteriorates. Ahoc-Thon says he always tells the mothers to take advantage of the free health services brought near to them.
"Last year, I went to a far location in Wunthok, in Yirol, and I spent three days there to tell them the importance of immunisation. In those days, I did immunisation for 487 children. When I reached there, I met the chief and community elders to brief them on the importance of immunisation. They said they heard from the community that when you immunise a child, the child becomes weak and deaf. But I told them the importance of the vaccine, and I related it to past outbreaks of how it killed people. The elders understood it."
"He talks softly to us."
– Alual Alueth, mother of four, describing Ahoc-Thon
Ahoc-Thon says he has seen significant improvement in vaccination take-up in Mingkaman as mothers return to the vaccination centre on specific days – just as the vaccinator has told them. To him, the perception of the vaccine has also changed.
"When we go to the communities to immunise children, parents also ask us whether we have moved with the vaccine for cholera and HIV/AIDs. This gives us the impression that they understand the benefits of vaccines."
Dwamoi Allaric is the county coordinator for CUAM, an implementing partner to the government, supporting EPI programmes in South Sudan. Allaric, who technically supervises the vaccinators in Mingkaman PHCC, says he has never heard any complaints from the mothers about the area vaccinators. He is happy with how Ahoc-Thon and his two colleagues work at the centre.
"Mhot's performance is good. He is doing what we call a static component; at the same time, he is doing outreach services, whereby once a week, he goes out to vaccinate children, he takes the record, and at the end of the month, he adds the data of the outreach and the static ones for monthly reports, so he has been performing well. His manners in discipline and coordination are good," Allaric compliments Ahoc-Thon.
"His communication skill is really perfect; he is humble with the way he communicates to parents, even the way he handles children – he is child friendly."
Zacharia Kuol, a co-vaccinator to Ahoc-Thon, says he enjoys working with him. "He is a hard worker; when he comes to the field, we work together," Kuol says. "I trust him because he is a committed person. I also like how he explains things to the mothers in detail in the local language until they understand."
Alual Alueth, who has vaccinated four of her children at Mingkaman PHCC, says Ahoc-Thon is an active man: "He is always busy. If he is not collecting cards, he is injecting children or talking to mothers. He talks softly to us."