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Mother calls for vaccines that would have saved her children

I bumped along a dirt road in the back of a 4×4 squeezed in with a team of ten vaccinators driving to a remote village 60km from the already remote Kapoeta in southern Sudan.

Our mission: to bring vaccines to children who wouldn’t otherwise get protection against basic but killer childhood diseases.

Women and children adorned in beads and bangles appeared along the roadside carrying large bundles of wood and water on their heads, and then silently disappeared into the bush.

Almost impassable

Twice the road was almost impassable and the vehicle came to a squelching halt as it sunk into thick mud caused by the recent rains. Once we got a puncture thanks to the appalling road conditions.

Eventually, two hours after we had started our journey, we were a stone’s throw from our destination. Only a deep quagmire stood between us and the children we’d come to vaccinate.

Used to the routine in these circumstances, the team of vaccinators rolled up their trousers, took off their shoes, gathered the vaccines together and set off through the mud, sinking up to their knees in places.

This is just one of many challenges of getting vaccines to children living in the remotest parts of southern Sudan – a region with just 50km of tarred roads and where less than 30% of the population has electricity.

Fragile power

Lazarus, who heads up the vaccination team, told me what a worry it is every morning and evening when he checks the temperature of the solar-powered fridge. Will the temperature be cool enough to store the vaccines?

If the fragile power fails and the vaccines warm to more than 8 degrees centigrade they can’t be used. And we miss the chance to protect more southern Sudanese children from the six main killer diseases – measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and tuberculosis.

When we did finally reach Lokoges village it didn’t take long before we were surrounded by children, and queues of mothers and their babies started forming under the tree where the mobile vaccine station was being set up.

After one-year-old Louri had had her full dose of vaccines her mum Nameliakos told me, “Children die not just in this village but also in all the villages around here.

“If these vaccines hadn’t been brought to us then I wouldn’t have been able to get my child vaccinated because the clinic is too far away, maybe two or three days walk.”

Lucky ones

Louri is one of the lucky ones. When southern Sudan becomes the world’s newest country on 9 July 2011 it will have the dubious boast of having the world’s lowest vaccine coverage rate – 17% of children are vaccinated compared to 94% in the UK.

In another village I met Lotabong who had given birth to eight children. In quiet tones she told me that two of her children had died from measles and one other from diarrhoea.

Lotabong lost two of her children to measles, a disease easily preventable by immunisation
Lotabong lost two of her children to measles, a disease easily preventable by immunisation

She didn’t know that there were vaccines to prevent measles at the time. She does now, though, and encourages all the mums with small babies in her village to take them so they don’t suffer loss like hers.

She told me: “If you meet the world leaders you must ask them to bring us vaccines for measles and pneumonia. These are the most important medicines for children. If these are brought then our children will be protected.”

Make or break

We mustn’t let voices like Lotabong’s go unheard. When David Cameron and other world leaders meet on Monday at a global vaccine summit in London they have a make-or-break opportunity to help save the lives of 4 million children.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation is facing a shortfall of £2.3 billion for its work over the next five years. Without full funding, many children – like those of Lotabong – will continue to die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year.

You can add your voice to our petition to help save children’s lives.

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