When the child is healthy, the mother is happy

Free vaccinations programs in Bangladesh help immunize children in hard-to-reach areas of the country.

With Canada’s support, the Expanded Program on Immunization clinic in Dhaka provides life-saving vaccinations to young patients.

Syeda Sultana Roushan Jahan, a 40-year-old mother of two, has visited Bangladesh’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) headquarters in Dhaka many times. It is where she came to get her first child immunized. Now, she has come back to start vaccinations for her second baby.

With the calm of an experienced mother, she watches as the doctor holds part of the baby’s thigh and slowly inserts the needle. The child starts to wail and Syeda laughs and bends her head down to kiss his tears. She knows the vaccine will help to build up her baby’s immune system and protect him from deadly diseases. “When the child is healthy, the mother is happy,” she says with a smile.

Vaccinating more children to prevent diseases

Syeda is one of a dozen mothers at the clinic. Bangladesh’s EPI, which was introduced by the Government in 1979 with the help of UNICEF, is one of the country’s biggest success stories. As recently as 1985, only about two percent of Bangladeshi children were vaccinated against preventable diseases. Today, that percentage has reached 82.5 percent—and is still rising.

The EPI’s objective is to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases in Bangladesh. With the support of donors like Canada, the EPI is credited with preventing approximately 200,000 deaths a year in Bangladesh. Its success in achieving and maintaining polio-eradication status, and in staying on course to eliminate measles by 2016, is widely acknowledged—even in rural areas.

“EPI is doing good things in our country,” says Syeda. “Everyone is quite pleased with this program because, so far, in the rural areas everyone is completing these free vaccinations. We rarely see someone suffering from polio or tuberculosis, so we are doing well.”

Reaching hard-to-reach areas

The EPI is large-scale, with 140,000 active sites across the country and more than 50,000 government employees playing a role. Employees are a mix of health and family welfare assistants and front-line supervisors.

To expand its reach, at all of its sites the EPI has a bright yellow flag featuring a baby in the centre so that it is recognizable even to illiterate parents. According to Syeda, it has become a very popular sign in Bangladesh.

Canada’s current contribution to the EPI—known as the Immunization Strengthening Project—seeks to increase the number of  vaccines provided in the country.  It also plans to reach children who live in underserved and hard-to-reach areas, such as islands, hilly areas, slums and floating communities.

To make this happen, Canada is providing help to purchase and install equipment, such as cold rooms and ice-lined refrigerators. This equipment ensures the proper storage and safe handling of vaccines. Having onsite vaccines are necessary to battle potentially deadly or crippling diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, measles and tetanus. It also means more chidlren, who are younger than two, receive all vaccines with the right antigens, at the right time.

In Bangladesh, as in many countries with a large population, the battle against preventable and infectious diseases is hard-fought. But the Immunization Strengthening Project contributes greatly to levelling the playing field.

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