Africa’s health debate: Are vaccine sceptics serious?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Since its launch in 2015, the project has helped save more than 13 million lives

A vaccine and dengue surveillance project launched by the Kenyan government has drawn praise and condemnation from health officials in the continent.

The project encourages children in Africa to get immunised against diseases such as polio, measles and dengue.

Some, however, believe the initiative is discriminatory against children living in rural areas.

Romeo Achieng’s own daughter Malati has already been immunised.

The 16-year-old’s view is echoed by Ms Achieng’s neighbours:

“A lot of rural communities don’t trust the polio vaccine and therefore we think vaccines such as polio should only be administered to us because our children don’t have access to other types of vaccinations such as measles or dengue.

“We just don’t trust that the vaccines are not dangerous for us,” said one woman who did not want to be named.

“We were told by doctors in our villages that the vaccine could spread diseases such as polio or yellow fever to us, but we’re worried because we don’t know how we’ll be able to protect our children from that.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption People in villages around the Kenyan town of Eldoret hope the vaccination initiative will further their position

Dr Fida Haroon, deputy director general of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, says the movement spreads scepticism and fear.

“Rural communities in Kenya are still sceptical about vaccines and that is why we cannot give them any kind of public facility that might entice these communities to receive vaccines,” she says.

“We want every home to receive vaccines that target them as it will help our society and ultimately we will eliminate the lack of immunisation that still persists in many rural parts of Kenya.”

Ms Haroon says the project has helped the government track the positive and negative effects of the vaccine on communities.

“We have gathered a lot of data on the activities undertaken by this project and a lot of positives have been observed in terms of the immunisation initiation in our women and children,” she says.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Last year almost 200 children died in Kenya because of tetanus

It has also launched a scheme to track the positive and negative effects of the vaccine on children’s immune systems.

Children living in the villages of Boende region in central Kenya were interviewed to study how they received vaccines.

“It is good that people are raising questions on vaccine. It shows our nation is still not fully informed about vaccines,” Ms Achieng said.

“I’m happy that my daughter Malati is vaccinated because it means that we live in a place where we can be protected against the killer diseases.”

Dengue cases are at record levels in Kenya. Last year, an estimated 28,000 cases of dengue fever were reported to the National Hospital Insurance Fund.

The World Health Organisation says more than 800,000 people die globally each year due to dengue.

And since its launch in 2015, the vaccine for dengue has helped save more than 13 million lives.

For Malati, she sees the future as good.

“I think that our children should get all the vaccines because I want them to live in a place where we will be protected and I also think it is good to offer the vaccines to people as a way of encouraging them to take them at the same time and not give them any after the fact,” she said.

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