Stories
25 Apr 2022
By: Dr. Berihu Dessalegn Beyene

Mekelle - Vaccines are critical to prevent and control the outbreak of more than 20 life-threatening diseases. In northern Ethiopia, the population has suffered from protracted conflict, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and making access to critical health services, such as vaccinations, nearly impossible. 

On a weekly basis since the start of the year, IOM has been providing routine immunization services to vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mekelle, Tigray region, Ethiopia, in line with the national Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) schedule.  

The immunization services being provided at Sabacare primary health care centre are helping to prevent the risk of contracting life-threatening diseases for IDPs impacted by conflict in northern Ethiopia. 

As the Sabacare displacement site is located far from the nearest health centres, before the establishment of the IOM-run Sabacare clinic in September 2021, mothers living here had to travel long distances to access essential health services. This was nearly impossible due to the general shortage of cash and scarcity of fuel impacting the region since protracted armed conflict broke out in November 2020.  

In November 2021, Selam Kahsay, a 31-year-old new mother, gave birth at the Sabacare clinic to a healthy baby boy, Natan Haftu, without complications. Due to the ongoing conflict, the vaccines were not available at the time of his birth. As a result, Natan was unable to receive his BCG (Bacillus Calmette Guérin) vaccine to protect against serious forms of Tuberculosis (TB). The baby had to wait for two whole months before vaccines arrived.   

As result of close coordination with the health authorities in the region, IOM has been able to ensure access to vaccines to combat the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) at the Sabacare clinic. Over 1,700 people had benefited from IOM’s immunization programme by mid-April 2022. Additionally, IOM provides Vitamin A and deworming to the vaccinated children. 

A child at Dabat site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Gondar, Amhara region of Ethiopia, receives nutrition screening from IOM’s mobile health and nutrition team - March 2022. Photo: IOM/ Hiyas Bagabaldo

This service allowed Selam’s child, as well as other children, to receive all the recommended vaccines, and since then he has been following his immunization according to the EPI schedule.

IOM’s mobile health and nutrition team providing health services to the community at Dabat site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Gondar, Amhara region of Ethiopia - March 2022. Photo: IOM/ Hiyas Bagabaldo

Selam says, “I was very worried when no vaccines were available and so scared that my child might become fatally ill. When IOM started immunization services here, I finally got my child vaccinated and am so happy and grateful for the services provided.”

Carolyne Kipsang, Emergency Health Coordinator for IOM Ethiopia said, “IOM’s primary health care activities in Ethiopia encompass curative and preventive aspects. Routine immunization is one of the key activities we support to prevent disease outbreaks, especially in vulnerable populations such as IDPs. We also support government efforts during mass reactive and supplementary vaccination campaigns.” 
 

The IOM health clinic at Dabat site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Gondar, Amhara region of Ethiopia is providing emergency and primary health care and referral services - March 2022. Photo: IOM/ Hiyas Bagabaldo

In 2021, IOM Ethiopia served over 21,000 people through mass vaccinations and nearly 9,000 via routine vaccinations. This work is made possible through the generous support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ethiopian Humanitarian Fund (EHF).

Throughout the East and Horn of Africa, IOM continues working towards vaccine equity to leave no one behind by providing vaccinations to refugees and migrants, both routinely and in response to VPD outbreaks, including COVID-19. These initiatives are carried out through diverse programmes and projects in collaboration with the Ministries of Health and key partners such as WHO, UNICEF and Gavi.

This story was written by Dr. Berihu Dessalegn Beyene, IOM Ethiopia, Email: bbeyene@iom.int and edited by Eric Mazango, IOM Ethiopia, Email: emazango@iom.int