There used to be a time when young girls like Sabina and Lila would whimper and cry after getting their shots. It is a gauge of the success of the awareness drive that precedes vaccination campaigns that children today eagerly come to the health posts and leave smiling.
Measles is a major killer of Nepali children and here in remote district of Humla it is third only to acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal dehydration. During the last phase of national measles campaign last week, Humla was one of the seven mountain districts targeted by the government to immunise all children between nine months to 15 years. More than 17,000 children in all of Humla's 27 VDCs were reached.
It wasn't easy, there are no roads in Humla and only Simikot has an airport. Even then, everyone knew the campaign was on and families with children were eagerly waiting for 21 April so they could go to the health posts. Last week, mothers were pushing each other to get their children ahead in the unruly queue at the village of Daraphai. Said one anxious mother: "I hope they don't run out of injections."
With this last phase of the measles campaign that started in September 2004, 9.5 million children all over Nepal will have been immunised against measles. "Every mother came with her children, the campaign went really well," says 62-year-old Female Health Care Volunteer Kalu Raut in Simikot. Indeed, most of the credit for getting the mothers to come goes to women volunteers like Kalu who are at the forefront of Nepal's rural health and child survival success story.
Another volunteer, Luaro Shahi, says: "Even young children have understood the importance of getting their shots which is why almost everyone is here." Back in Kathmandu, Parsuram Shrestha of the government's Child Health Division is ecstatic: "This is just an example to prove that despite everything there are no obstacles to immunising children." Down in the plains of Dang, the vaccination recieved a huge response despite the conflict and travel hassles. In Hapur VDC alone 276 children were immunised in two days.
Many children suffer due to complications of measles for which there is no treatment. "Prevention is the best option and the only way is to get vaccinated against it," says YV Pradhan of the Ministry of Health. Every year, about 150,000 children get measles in Nepal and the campaign aims to cut in half the annual death toll of 5,000 children from measles and reduce the number of children who suffer complications such as blindness, deafness and mental disability.
The Ministry of Health's measles campaign is supported by the Nepal Family Health Program, WHO and UNICEF.
The national Vitamin A program held simultaneously also proved to be a hit. Nepal's success with its Vitamin A campaign is regarded as one of the most effective in the developing world. Vitamin A supplementation can reduce under-five mortality rate by 30 percent and the program is averting the deaths of an estimated 12,000 Nepali children each year.
Every second Nepali child is stunted and malnourished. Intestinal worm infections are also a chronic problem that further reduces the amount of iron they absorb, making them weak and anaemic. The vitamin program aimed to reach 3.3 million children around the country in April and is supported by AusAID, USAID, the Nepali Technical Assistance Group and UNICEF.