Vaccinating Hard-to-Reach Children in Uganda

Cynthia Changyit Levin is a volunteer Shot@Life champion and a development associate for RESULTS, an ACTION partner. For more insights on her trip to Uganda, visit the Anti-Poverty Blog.

Two weeks ago, I watched something remarkable: children receiving vaccines. This may seem ordinary, but I was attending a Family Health Day in rural Mubende, a district in central Uganda, where health services are hard to reach. Family Health Days are a targeted effort to bring life-saving immunizations to the country’s poorest and most remote children.

As a champion for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign, I traveled with UNICEF to strategic sites where their target population gathers regularly: mosques and churches. While there aren’t enough health clinics convenient for the rural population travelling on foot, many people can be reached by sending health providers to houses of worship where families attend together.

Uganda's vaccine campaigns are working wonders in the districts where they have been introduced. We found high awareness among mothers we interviewed. They were either eager to receive vaccines for their kids or happy their family was already immunized. In coming years, Family Health Days will be rolled out to all districts.

To put the need for these programs in context, this child mortality graph for Uganda from shows a remarkably consistent downward trend for 20 years. However, Uganda will need to make considerable progress to reach the MDG4 goal (dotted line).

To continue improvement, Uganda must now focus on the hardest to reach kids and expand to include new types of vaccines. I saw infants receiving immunizations for polio and measles, diseases thankfully under control through the expansion of vaccination campaigns. Yet the children I played with were not protected with vaccines against the leading causes of pneumonia. This is troubling since pneumonia is the top killer disease of children under 5 years of age in Uganda and in the world.

Here is great news for World Pneumonia Day: Uganda has been approved by GAVI for pneumococcal vaccine roll out in 2013. If introduced, these immunizations will save 10,800 children’s lives and prevent 94,000 cases of pneumonia every year in Uganda.[1]

To read more about children unreached by immunizations and healthcare, read ACTION and Save the Children-UK’s report “Finding the Final Fifth: Inequalities in Immunization” and stay tuned for a follow-up report to be launched in December.


[1] Tate, et al. Projected health benefits and costs of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccination in Uganda. Vaccine. Volume 29, Issue 17, 12 April 2011, Pages 3329–3334.