A health vaccination campaign for refugees in Kota Kinabalu is beginning to show results, writes Olivia Miwil
ALL eyes are on a group of people dressed in white as they step out of a government-issued van at the refugee resettlement area in Telipok, Kota Kinabalu. The team, from the Telipok Health Clinic, is in the area to provide vaccination for the children as part of the free immunisation programme introduced in 2016 by the Health Ministry.
Asmariah Abdul, 30, brought five of her children to be vaccinated as she is aware that it will reduce their risk of infectious diseases.
Asmariah, who is unable to afford the cost of immunisation, is grateful for the programme.
“My husband works odd jobs and his income is only enough for us to get by. I know it is important to get these jabs because it prevents the children from getting sick but we just cannot afford it,” says the mother of eight.
For Norazriana Najib, 28, the vaccinations are optional as she gives her two sons paracetamol or herbs when they are sick.
Oblivious to what the vaccines are for, Norazriana only took her 18-month-old son to be vaccinated since her husband was looking after their eldest child.
Community leader Yakub Bulda says the free immunisation programme is needed in the community, where the majority are Filipino refugees. There are also a small number of other foreigners including Pakistanis, who are monitored by the National Security Council, as well as locals.
“Besides vaccine-related cases, there are people with other contagious diseases that need attention in this area. This is why we are grateful for such campaigns,” he says. Kota Kinabalu District Health Officer Dr Jiloris Dony said the health vaccination campaign was launched two years ago following an increase in mortality rate among unvaccinated children.
In the Kota Kinabalu area, there are several hotspots in Telipok, Luyang, Inanam and Menggatal with low immunisation coverage, he says.
“Before we carry out the campaign at any locality, it takes about three months to ascertain low coverage immunisation and number of children who are not vaccinated.”
Dr Jiloris says the campaign also aims to educate the public on the importance of vaccination and encourage them to go to health clinics.
Family medicine specialist Dr Eleza Nazefah Rosli, who is based at Telipok health clinic, says it is important to vaccinate as many children as possible to create herd immunity.
It will help those who cannot be vaccinated due to conditions such as cancer, immunosuppressive illnesses and premature babies.
Sabah Health director Datuk Dr Christina Rundi says between 2016 and 2017, there were 27 deaths related to unvaccinated children.
Last year, there were 84 cases where people refused to be vaccinated compared to 42 in 2016.
“Among the reasons they refused to be vaccinated were fear of potential adverse effects, mistakenly thinking the vaccines contain porcine gelatine, belief in alternative treatments as well social media and family influences,” she says.
In Malaysia, children are required to go through at least nine scheduled vaccinations for preventable diseases in the first 18 months after birth.
Among the preventable diseases are tuberculosis, diphteria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, Haemophilus Influenza type B, hepatitis, measles, mumps and rubella.
It is important to vaccinate as many children as possible to create herd immunity. Dr Eleza Nazefah Rosli
Health personnel from Telipok Health Clinic explaining the programme to the mothers from Telipok Refugee Settlement.
Asmariah brought five of her children for immunisation.