Kenya: Children Risk Death As Immunisation Levels Remain Low

When the five-year-old girl was carried to Ring’o dispensary five days ago from Silale, more than 35km away displaying symptoms of pale eyes, swollen legs due to anaemia and seizures caused by acute malaria, it did not occur to her mother that lack of vaccination during childhood had contributed to her daughter’s weakened immune system.

Ms Katekon kirareng, from the remote Silale village had brought her severely ill daughter after suffering from malaria, a condition she has suffered every time there is an outbreak in the area.

The frail, weak and dehydrated girl was on a drip at the facility’s as a first aid after travelling for two days to access services.

The girl, at five years, had not been immunized since birth and according to the mother, has been sickly since she was born. “How can I travel tens of kilometers to bring my child for immunization which I am not even sure if I will get anyway? We only come here when the children don’t respond to the herbal medicine at home because of the distance you have to cover to reach the dispensary. All my five children were not immunized and though they fall sick, we have no option but to survive,” said Ms Kirareng.

Hundreds of children in the remote villages in Tiaty Sub-County are prone to infections with several below five years dying of curable diseases due to lowered immunity due to lack of immunization.

A spot check by the HealthyNation on villages revealed that several children were not immunised while those lucky to have been vaccinated did not complete the dosage as recommended by the Ministry of Health due to scarcity of health facilities, the nomadic nature of the locals and high illiteracy levels.

Delayed payment

In 2017 and 2019 for instance, more than 20 children in the remote villages in Tirioko ward died of an upsurge of malaria after walking for tens of kilometers to access a health facility.

In the affected area, the nearby Kongor dispensary stalled after the contractor protested over delay of payment. This is a facility which is expected to serve more than 20 villages with a radius of 50km.

Chepocheu Kalimreng, a mother of three had walked more than 45km from Nadome village to Akwichatis dispensary to seek services for her ailing two months old baby who was suffering from pneumonia and diarrhoea.

The baby had not received a single dose of immunization; a situation the health worker at the facility said had contributed to the illness, due to low immunity to fight infections.

“This is my third-born child and I delivered all my three children at home due to the long distance I have to travel to access a facility. All of them, including my 11-year-old boy were not immunized. We only pray God to protect them,” said Ms Kalimreng who had walked for three days to arrive at the facility.

She is among hundreds of mothers in the locality who only bring their children to the hospital when they are too sick. “Most children here are not immunized. You find that most of them only bring their sick children when their conditions have deteriorated and you cannot immunize them when sick. After that, they disappear until the child is unwell again,” Patrick Kwiaruk, a health worker at Akwichatis health center.

Elusive services

Records at the facility which serves a radius of more than 50kms for instance revealed that only 37 children were immunized in January. Clinics at the facility are done twice a week.

There were no records of visits of the clinics from February until May 19th when only 26 children were immunized.

“It is hard to make follow ups because some come for the first jab, you give them the monitoring card only to show up after a year without it, making it difficult to know the age of the child and the jabs or oral doses he has received,” he said.

“Many children die of malaria. They also suffer from tuberculosis, measles and polio,” said William Loremoi, a nurse at Riong’o dispensary.

At Akoret division in Tirioko ward, there is no single operational health facility in the vast area with locals forced to walk for more than 100km to Chemolingot Sub-County hospital or Kapedo health Centre, more than 45kms away, which they cannot access due to the runaway insecurity.

Akoriye Kumatile raised concern that they have been forced to walk to neighboring West Pokot County in search of the elusive services.

“I feel that we are lesser Kenyans and we have just been left on our own?” said Mr Kumatile.

Children are normally immunized to protect them from Hepatitis B, Haemophillus influenza type b, Human papillomavirus, Meningitis, Measles, Mumps, Pneumococcal diseases, Rotaviruses Rubella, Tetanus, Yellow, Tuberculosis, Chickenpox and Polio.

Locals in the far flung area rely on outreach missions sponsored by World Vision, Red Cross and religious organisations which the locals claimed had stopped for close to two years now.

More than 45 new dispensaries were constructed using millions by the county government in the far flung areas in the region between 2013 and 2017 with most of them fully complete but are yet to serve the intended purpose.

For instance, Toplen health centre in the remote Silale ward in Tiaty Sub-County was constructed in 2013 at a cost of Sh6.7 million. Its construction was completed in 2015 but is not equipped with drugs and staff.

Banditry-prone areas

The situation was not different at Keriwok dispensary in Tangulbei/ Korossi ward in Tiaty. Shrubs had outgrown the complete facility which was constructed in 2014 at a cost of Sh5.7 million. The facility was completed in 2017 but no health worker has been deployed in the area.

“The county government recently hired medical interns but we are yet to get any in our facility. We have many children from this area who were willing to work here but they were deployed elsewhere. We wonder why we were left out,” says Mr. Samuel Lenyang’ole, a local.

Baringo County vaccine and immunization officer Lenah Kosgei, gave the immunization performance in the first quarter in Tiaty East and East Pokot sub-counties as 58.2 and 47.8 per cent respectively.

The immunization officer disclosed that they have 40 outreaches in the region funded by Global Alliance Vaccines initiative (GAVI) and 30 others funded by Afya Uzazi respectively.

“In Tiaty, we have only 24 facilities where immunization is conducted but we are supplementing these with the outreaches as well,” she said.

According to Baringo County Chief officer in charge of medical services Gideon Toromo, insecurity in the banditry prone areas has also been a main challenge because most facilities end up being closed. “Some are closed due to insecurity thus depriving children of immunization services,” said Mr Toromo.

County’s executive in charge of health Mary Panga however said that their focus is to rely on mobile clinics in the far flung areas instead of constructing facilities.

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