Fahima Ahmed Hassan is a 25-year-old community mobilizer who goes the extra mile to ensure parents of children under the age of five are well informed about the polio vaccination campaign and are ready to vaccinate their children. Fahima and the other mobilisers are from the local community and they lay the groundwork for vaccinators. They work tirelessly to reach every house in the community, while also helping families to understand, trust, and accept the vaccine. They try to make sure everyone in the community knows and understands the importance of vaccinating all children under the age of five.
On Sunday morning, children and their families are waiting anxiously. They have been informed, by Fahima and also through loudspeaker announcements, days ahead of the polio campaign, that a team of vaccinators will be visiting their community but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some people are concerned and worried about taking their children for vaccinations. They fear they might contract the virus or expose their children to it. Together with her team, Fahima takes every precaution to keep herself and the community she serves protected.Fahima explains that it is critical to show people that the work can be done while maintaining physical distance, wearing protective masks and using hand sanitizer.
Some people do not need to be convinced about the benefits of immunization. Asha Osman Yarow is one of them. She is patiently waiting for her son to be vaccinated. “I decided to get my children vaccinated because their health is important to me,” says Asha holding her young son. “Vaccines protect children against diseases, like polio, measles and others,” she adds.
“I am glad that we are able to get these vaccinations,” chimes in Sahro Mohamed Haile, who is there with her grandson. “I encourage all mothers to take care of their children, vaccinate them and keep records of their vaccination status” she adds with a smile.
While some are eager to accept the vaccination service, others in the community are more reluctant to accept the vaccines. “At first, I refused to vaccinate my children. I heard people say that the vaccines were no good and that they were made by non-Muslims. I was scared,” explains 30-year-old Wardo. “After speaking to the community mobilizers, I realized that the vaccines are good for my children's health – and I changed my mind,” she notes.
“I understand where they are coming from, and I do my best to give them information and convince them that vaccinations are beneficial,” says Fahima. “Illiteracy, lack of education and myths make people reject the vaccines,” she adds. Together with the other community mobilizers, Fahima involves elders, religious leaders and community influencers while mobilizing mothers and other women. She urges parents until the very last minute to come forward.
“I've vaccinated all of my children and I was one of the first people in my community to support vaccines,'' says Isha Hassan Saney, a fellow community mobilizer. She believes that being a good example will help in convincing the others in the community to vaccinate their children. Changing someone’s mind from refusing to take the vaccine to accepting is a major milestone Fahima and her colleagues celebrate.“I am motivated to serve the community, especially the mothers and children, because they need to be taken care of,
Fahima says. “There is no better reward than seeing them healthy,” she notes.
Despite COVID-19, and the enhanced risk of infecting her husband and her extended family members when she comes home after the work, Fahima continues to show up for work and doesn't let fear take over. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed what is at stake when communities do not have the protective shield of immunization against an infectious disease. When vaccines are available, they are the most effective tool to prevent dangerous disease outbreaks. Staying informed about their benefits and understanding the risks of not getting vaccinated has never been so important. Fahima and the other community mobilizers play an instrumental role in this.
During the recent polio immunization campaign, 6,751 vaccinators went from door to door and 2,400 community mobilizers, including Fahima and her team, sensitized the target communities. The two-part campaign, organized by the federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF and WHO, reached more than a million children under the age of five in the Somali Region.