When the Haitian government decided that it needed to resume vaccination campaigns to help prevent the spread of disease following the January 12 earthquake, the Red Cross was one of the first organizations to respond – making resources available to protect at least 250,000 children and adults from measles, diptheria, pertussis and tetanus.
Starting on February 8 with 120 volunteer vaccinators on the ground, including those from Canada, Haiti, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea, the Red Cross and its partners began vaccinating as many as 10,000 in a single day.
A great deal of progress has been made since.
“One of the people vaccinated today will be the 100,000th of the campaign,” said Dr. Bathélémy Guibert, the director of the municipal health office at Fonds-Verrettes – a municipality in the Croix-des-Bouquets arrondissement in Haiti’s quake zone. These vaccinations are another opportunity for people to survive the tragedy, children above all.”
Vaccinations used to be carried out yearly by the health ministry in Haiti, but it was all brought to a halt by January’s devastating earthquake. The hundreds of thousands of displaced people meant vaccination was an urgent priority – one the Haitian health ministry was anxious to get back on the agenda in an effort to prevent disease.
Within weeks of the earthquake, the American Red Cross contributed $374,500 to support the health ministry’s emergency campaign and has made a commitment along with its Measles Initiative partners to assist with future efforts as well.
Coordination is complex, bringing the health ministry together with the Haitian National Red Cross Society, UNICEF, local organizations and other international aid agencies.Tens of thousands of earthquake survivors are being vaccinated in a mass health campaign targeted the most vulnerable living in temporary settlements around Port-au-Prince following the January 12 earthquake. Bonnie Gillespie/American Red Cross
“The work is complicated and challenging in this environment,” said Marie-Claude Élie, the Canadian Red Cross vaccination team leader. “Coordinating many actors, complying with local procedures and infrastructures, and above all convincing people of the importance of vaccination for the future of their families is a big task, if you put it all together.”
Fortunately there are more partners joining the efforts.
“We hope this will help the health ministry and UNICEF reach their objective of vaccinating (more than one million) people as soon as possible,” said Marianne Monclair, medical coordinator for the Red Cross in Haiti.
In Villambetta, a poor neighborhood on the slopes above Port-au-Prince, residents are grateful for the arrival of the first vaccination team. Some 3,000 people moved to makeshift camps in this area after their homes were destroyed or damaged in the quake.
Humanitarian organizations have installed latrines and distributed tarps and tents, but there is still massive need everywhere you look.
“I don’t have money or a job,” says 36 year-old Gino Lamas, a father of five. “All I want is for my family to be happy, a small house to live in, a school for my children (and) to recover a little dignity. Is that too much to ask? Before the earthquake I did not have any of that, and now it’s all further away than ever.”
The vaccination campaign, in these dire circumstances, has not been easy to sell.
As the vaccination posts are installed, the Red Cross gently reminds people that by vaccinating themselves and their children, they are fighting back against the extreme vulnerability into which the earthquake threw them.
“We have done everything we can to support our community,” says Noel Ylmond, leader of Villambetta’s displaced. “Our priority has been to put children first from the very beginning. But it’s difficult for people to accept that when other priorities seem more pressing. These children are our hope, our future.”
The vaccination consists of five different components: measles, diptheria, pertussis and tetanus,as well as albendezol – a deworming agent – and vitamin A. These interventions will help protect children and adults from contracting diseases common after large-scale emergencies and support the health system as it recovers and rebuilds its capacity.
“We still have 50,000 more people (in one area) to vaccinate,” says Dr. Guilbert, a former professor at the local university medical and nurse’s school, both destroyed in the earthquake. “The experience our volunteers gathered working with the multinational teams is a valuable asset that can benefit the whole Haitian health system, especially now that medical education has been destroyed. It’s very satisfying to have reached all these people in Haiti, where low vaccination rates are chronic.”
In 2007 and 2008, the American Red Cross and its Measles Initiative partners supported measles vaccination campaigns throughout which nearly 6 million children were immunized.
To learn more about similar integrated health campaigns that the Red Cross supports globally, visit www.measlesinitiative.org.