Don’t wait to vaccinate! Civil society organizations in Togo mobilize and motivate rural communities for dual vaccine launch
Mothers wait to vaccinate their babies at the Kpele-Eleme Health Centre in Togo.
My cousin Mada, who lives in Atakpamé, Togo (about 160 km from the capital Lomé), tragically lost her son Dissirama to severe diarrhea. After the baby fell ill, my cousin took him to a traditional healer who prepared a potion and told my cousin to pour it on her ancestors' graves and ask for their blessing to spare her son's life. The traditional healer did not advise my cousin to give her son oral rehydration salts (ORS) or to take him to the hospital to receive intravenous fluids, which are necessary to treat severe dehydration from diarrhea. Because Dissirama did not receive ORS or intravenous fluids, he passed away.
Consultation of traditional healers is deeply rooted in Togo's culture, especially in rural areas. While traditional healers may play important roles in Togolese society, children suffering from severe diarrhea need to be treated with ORS or intravenous fluids. Sadly, parents and caregivers in rural areas often lack access to information about the importance of taking children to health centers for medical treatment. In addition, health centers are often located far away from rural communities and may be out of reach of parents and caregivers.
I am the chair of the Union of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in Togo (UONGTO), a national umbrella organization of NGOs that works to strengthen advocacy and communication capacities of Togolese NGOs. UONGTO is a member of the GAVI Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Constituency Steering Committee and the focal point for the GAVI-funded CSO Platform that promotes immunization in Togo. CSOs such as UONGTO are vital in the efforts to educate rural communities about proper medical treatment of diseases and to mobilize and motivate parents to get their children vaccinated to prevent disease. CSOs also work to encourage policymakers to financially support the introduction of new vaccines and to strengthen existing health systems.
In 2009, with funding from GAVI, UONGTO conducted a census of maternal and child health CSOs in Togo to increase CSO engagement in promoting routine immunization. This effort earned us a prize at the 2009 GAVI Alliance Partners' Forum. With this momentum, UONGTO raised funds to train CSOs in advocacy and community mobilization. In 2011, with the support of the World Health Organization, our CSO platform wrote to the Ministry of Health asking the Government to submit an application to GAVI for support to introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines.
Today, three years after our CSO platform wrote to the MoH, Togo finally celebrates the historic dual introduction of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines! These new vaccines prevent the most severe forms of pneumonia and diarrhea - killer diseases devastating our children. Pneumonia causes 16% of deaths of Togolese children under five and diarrhea causes another 10%. With the introduction of these lifesaving vaccines, Togo's government and CSOs have an opportunity to work in partnership to help our communities by providing the knowledge and tools to prevent and treat these diseases. Going forward, CSOs in Togo will aim to increase outreach to rural communities with important health information, including news that these lifesaving vaccines are available free of charge. That is why today is a day of glory for Togo!
I thank my Government for taking this critical step, because the introduction of these vaccines will permit Togo to significantly reduce childhood diseases and deaths linked to pneumonia and diarrhea. I hope my Government will use today's introductions as a catalyst to increase communication efforts in rural communities to help them understand that vaccination is the best way to prevent the most severe forms of these diseases. I also thank donors and the GAVI Alliance for their financial support, which enables Togo to continue our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Parents and caregivers, when children are suffering from severe illness, it is important to take them to health centers for treatment. This way, we can avoid we can avoid unnecessary deaths like that of my little cousin Dissirama. It is even better to prevent disease in the first place through vaccination, so please go to your nearest health center where these lifesaving vaccines are now available! Protect your children against deadly diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia! Vaccinate your children and save their lives!
Ewé : Misi abͻta na miabéviwo, élé djͻwoanu éyé élaԃéwo da tso dͻsi wuaméwo gbͻ
Kabyè: Biya hεtu kεnε pͻyͻ kãtu bilisuwεkudomiε sim sinisi dε
[To vaccinate your children is to save. Protect them against deadly diseases.]
Photo credit: TOMETY Mawli-Dodi