Kenya: Health Volunteers Help Track Down Vaccine Defaulters in Kisumu

(file photo).

On the night of June 6, Mercy Anyango was rushed to Nyangoma health centre, Kisumu County, in labour pains.

Five hours later, she delivered her second child, a daughter.

But she left the hospital without her newborn receiving the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, which is always administered at birth.

The mother, through the intervention of a community health worker, was referred to the nearest health centre and her baby was vaccinated one week later.

Vaccine defaulting remains an issue of concern as many nursing mothers have shunned health facilities because of fears of contracting Covid-19, said Kisumu County Health Director Fred Oluoch.

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In May 2020, the county recorded a drastic drop in infant attendance at antenatal clinics that officials blamed on the pandemic.

At that time, Mr Oluoch, there was a general drop in the number of patients visiting hospitals, while many expectant mothers opted to deliver under the care of traditional birth attendants.

Most patients, including pregnant and nursing mothers, he said, avoided health centres due to fear of coming into contact with infected patients or health workers.

Through the help of community health volunteers, Mr Oluoch told Nation.Africa, the county has tracked down most vaccine defaulters.

"We have seen an increase in the number of children attending antenatal care despite the county being among those with the highest Covid-19 cases," he said.

Misinformation

The county had reached more than 95 percent of nursing mothers by June this year, the latest statistics by the health department show.

More than 187,000 children have been vaccinated for measles and rubella, surpassing its 160,000 target, with Kisumu East sub-county at the top.

Misinformation about the spread of the coronavirus, Mr Oluoch said, was a major hindrance to antenatal clinic attendance.

Between March and May 2020, the county recorded the lowest number of children below one year who were fully immunised, a five percent drop.

A year later, however, the county has reached out to more women and expectant mothers in urban and rural areas, ensuring all children get routine vaccinations.

Although vaccine defaulting is still a challenge, Mr Oluoch said, following up with mothers often ensures that all children get the all-important jabs.

"Our focus has been on educating nursing and pregnant mothers on the importance of having their children vaccinated even as they continue staying safe," he said.

"Once a woman conceives, we have our community health workers who, using a tracking tool, note down all the important details of the mother and the child to aid in tracking the vaccine defaulters."

With the help of the tracking tool, health workers can tell which new mothers did not take their newborns for vaccines.

The workers then refer the defaulters to the nearest health centres so their children can get the life-saving jabs.

But traditional birth attendants are still active and giving health workers a major headache, especially in rural areas, Mr Oluoch said.

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