Lubango, capital of Huíla province, was heavily affected by the drought caused by El Niño last year. As part of the response, UNICEF Angola supported an integrated vaccination program to prevent measles outbreaks in three southern provinces (Cunene, Huíla, and Namibe).
In the tiny village of Luyovo, about 30 km from Lubango, we found the small vaccination centre where Francisco Tyilumbe works as a technician involved in the integrated campaign for immunization against measles, deworming, and administration of vitamin A.
Francisco has run the health centre in Luyovo village for 18 years, serving as the nutrition focal point. He also has another important role – as community leader and coordinator of community agents. “It is my responsibility to ensure that the entire community has been vaccinated, especially the children,” he said.
After his day at the vaccination centre, Francisco joins other community agents to raise awareness among families, and encourage them to go to vaccination centres to receive measles immunizations. “We begin by looking for families whose children have not yet been vaccinated. We speak to them about the importance of vaccinations, albendazole (anti-parasitic medication) and vitamin A for the well-being of their children, and we encourage them to join the campaign,” explained Francisco.
While supervising the vaccination services at the health centre, Francisco takes the opportunity to perform nutritional screening by measuring mid-upper arm circumference. Many children suffering from malnutrition remain in their communities, as their families do not seek treatment in health centres in a timely manner.
“This is also an opportunity to enhance nutritional screening and identify cases of severe and moderate malnutrition that are hidden within the community. All children found in these situations are quickly admitted into the nutrition programme to initiate treatment and follow-up,” concluded Francisco. He expressed his satisfaction in being part of the campaign and disseminating vaccines to prevent epidemics in the community.
The impact in the community
Francisco’s work has a great impact on families like Joaquina Novilu’s. Joaquina lives in Luyovo with her husband and five children, including twins aged 2. She recognizes the impact of Francisco’s work in the community; he told her about the campaign.
“Mr. Francisco spoke of the campaign taking place in the community and asked me to bring my children to be vaccinated, as I was too busy working as a salesperson in the market when the campaign began. But on Sunday I took the opportunity to bring my twins and my 4-year-old granddaughter who lives with me,” said Joaquina.
When we asked about the services available as part of the campaign, Joaquina replied without hesitation that “the service is vaccines against measles, vitamin A and albendazole for deworming, and I know that it will protect my children against some diseases.
“I like the way that the children were treated in the vaccination centre, especially as Mr. Francisco was there to assist us. He is a good community leader and helped us by passing on good messages about health and sanitation, and he helps us whenever someone is sick,” she added.
Support from UNICEF
The vaccination campaign against measles helped prevent outbreaks in the three Angolan provinces most affected by drought, which also have an elevated number of cases of severe malnutrition. About 677,000 children aged 6 months to 5 years were vaccinated against measles.
UNICEF provided technical and financial support, as well as help in acquiring vaccines. Beyond this, and through an agreement with the Red Cross, UNICEF works with approximately 220 social mobilizers and community leaders, making available key information about the importance of the campaign and of vaccination centres.
Paulo Helio Mendes is a Programme Officer in the Lubango Field Office at UNICEF Angola.