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Mother’s Day Spotlight: Emily Cheptoek

Many of the healthcare heroes who work tirelessly to get lifesaving vaccines to as many children as possible are also mothers. In addition to caring for their patients, they also care for their children. One such inspiring woman is Emily Cheptoek, Principal Nursing Officer at the Ministry of Health in Uganda, who works with the Uganda Immunization program.

I met Emily in Uganda when she joined the Shot@Life team for a meeting at the Ministry of Health in Kampala and then traveled into more rural areas to observe the rollout of the Rotavirus vaccine. During our travels, she told me about her children. She is the mom of 18-year-old Paul, 14-year-old Esther, 11-year-old Anne and 8-year-old Peter. Emily recently shared with me how her roles as Principal Nursing Officer and mom intersect and impact her perspective.


Importance of Vaccination

“Vaccination is the most important gift a mother can give to her child.” she told me.

She said that her appreciation of vaccines increased quite a bit after she had children. All her children have been vaccinated on schedule, and as a result, she said that they have been healthy and she has not had to take off work to care for a child sick with a vaccine-preventable disease.

“Being a mom and a healthcare professional has been of great advantage to me because I understand the importance of vaccination,” she said, adding, “This care extends to my day to day activities in the profession of participating in planning to ensure every child in Uganda gets immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Cheptoek is not alone. As she told me, ““No mother would want to expose their child to immunizable diseases.”


Making progress and overcoming obstacles

Cheptoek reported that the stocks of vaccines have been adequate thanks to the support of Gavi, which supplements the Ugandan government’s efforts. In addition, she said the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine “was well-celebrated in Uganda.”

“Being a low-income economy, many families live under poor conditions that predispose children to recurrent infections from rotavirus diarrhea leading to severe dehydration and death when not properly managed. Every household with children has, at any one time, had to nurse a child suffering from diarrhea,” she said. “The vaccine was welcomed wholly by mothers in Uganda. So far, the diarrhea incidence among children has reduced as testified by some mothers.” That’s fantastic news!

Challenges still exist, however, that make it difficult for mothers in Uganda to fully vaccinate all their children. Cheptoek said from her perspective, the biggest obstacles include long distances they have to travel to reach a clinic and lack of transportation to make that journey.

Healthcare workers in Uganda are trying to address those challenges by combining some antigens into the same injection and giving multiple vaccines at the same time to reduce the number of injections and trips to the clinic that moms must make with their little ones. “This arrangement is friendly for mothers as they plan for only one visit every month given,” she said.


Celebrating mothers in Uganda

When I celebrate Mother’s Day this year, I’ll be thinking of Emily. I asked her if Mother’s Day is celebrated in Uganda, and Cheptoek told that me it is not widely celebrated and those who observe it are typically those who have lived abroad at some point.  She said that a bigger event is International Women’s Day on March 8 every year. She also said, “Individuals celebrate their mothers privately on their birthdays.”


Shannan Younger

Shannan Younger joined Shot@Life in 2016. Prior to that, she worked as an attorney and a nonprofit professional. Shannan attended the University of Notre Dame, where earned her degrees in English and in law. She also earned a certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University. She is a writer, with many pieces on health and education published in regional magazines, and a storyteller, recently participated in a pandemic story workshop with The Moth. After living her whole life in the Midwest, Shannan and her husband recently moved to Charlotte, NC, where she has discovered the joy of both hiking and biscuits. She has a daughter in college who is also a Shot@Life Champion and a research beagle.