In the United States, taking a child to receive their routine immunizations is fairly easy and straightforward for most moms. You get in your car, drive to your family practitioner, your doctor retrieves the vaccination from a refrigerator and gives the injection. The only painful part is the quick scream from your child.
Not so in Haiti. In these immunization clinics, mothers dress their children in their finest clothing as if they were attending a party. Receiving immunizations is a special affair, something to be celebrated and something that often requires tremendous effort—it’s not as simple as hopping into a car.
Martha Rebour, the Deputy Director for Shot@Life, was able to witness some of the struggles moms faced getting their children vaccinated in Haiti when she traveled to the country in November 2015. Haiti’s political climate is not nearly as stable as the rest of the world’s and it is one of the countries that spends the lowest percent of its GDP on healthcare—and it shows.
Mothers have to travel for miles with their children to actually get to the immunization clinics. This often involves a great deal of walking as well as riding in overcrowded tap taps, (refitted brightly painted pickup trucks with benches placed in their truck beds). People ride on the benches, in between them or hang off the sides of the truck—anyway they can get to where they need to go.
When asked about the toughest part of the trip Rebour answered, “Being a mom it was difficult to see children living in such tough conditions with so little. And it’s tempting to want to intervene with quick fixes, but we know that what is really needed are long term sustainable solutions.”
An example of a quick fix: a woman Rebour met who runs a clinic in Jacmel, Haiti was unable to store vaccines in her clinic because of a broken part in the clinic refrigerator. So on days when she offers vaccines, she needs to get up extra early, walk and take a taptap to the closest hospital (1 hour away), come back with the vaccine cooler, and at the end of the day make that same long trek to return the unused vaccines. UNICEFworks hand in hand with these types of clinics, supporting their work. This is an important factor in achieving sustainability—being a helping hand instead of taking the reins entirely.
“I cannot say enough good things about the work UNICEF does. They are really incredible in their efforts supporting these clinics,” says Rebour.
The Shot@Life team was welcomed into the homes of Haitian families, and were able to interview the people they met. Rebour, who speaks fluent French, was able to directly communicate with them and was touched by their stories.
“One of my favorite parts was seeing the moms with their babies in the clinics,” says Rebour. “The moms are proud to be there, and the children sense that it is a big important day. Because so many of these mothers have seen children become very ill and die from diseases, getting their children vaccinated is seen as an important milestone.”
Rebour has many hopes for Haiti’s future—that the government will prioritize healthcare more, and that children will have an opportunity to be healthy and thrive. With Shot@Life and UNICEF’s help, hopefully these hopes will come a bit closer to reality.