Emina Pleh from Goražde completed all the vaccinations for her older daughter, but when it was time for her son’s vaccination, the COVID-19 pandemic had already begun, so she decided to wait. At the beginning of last year, she received a call from the Bosnian Podrinje Canton’s Public Health Institute, reminding her about her son’s need for immunisation, and referring her to the paediatric service for more information. “They said that we should do it before he starts preschool, and we did,” says Emina.
Emina is one of around 500 parents from Bosnian Podrinje Canton who received a call from the Public Health Institute reminding them of missed vaccination appointments. This initiative is part of Unicef’s EU-funded Programme for Mitigating the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Lives of Children and Families in the Western Balkans and Turkey.
Making up for missng communication
Fatima Čengić is a Programme Specialist with Unicef in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She explains that
Unicef has been working on the improvement of immunisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina for many years, and has conducted surveys and analysis of the reasons why parents avoid vaccinating their children. The main reasons identified were health professionals not sharing enough information on the benefits and risks of vaccination, but also that parents sometimes simply forgot. “When you remind parents that they need to bring their children for vaccination, they will often do it. This communication was missing,” says Fatima.
Unicef therefore started developing communication strategies including the development and launch of an online application that would remind parents about vaccination schedules. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, they decided to engage dedicated support staff to take a different approach. The staff first reviewed all health records of children born between 2014 and 2020 who had been treated in the health centres of Goražde, Prača and Ustikolina. A list was made of all those who had missed one of the mandatory vaccines and then those parents were called on the phone and invited to contact their paediatricians, and local health centres gave them all the necessary information about immunisation and booking an appointment.
Since then, the project has expanded to Sarajevo Canton where it covers eight more health centres. A recent programme visit saw that out of 500 vaccinations given in one health centre in December, 175 were through this project. “That means that about a third of vaccinations that happened in one month were through our project and this is a huge success,” says Fatima.
Fatima explains that vaccinations were a critical issue for the healthcare system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as one of the first regular activities to be stopped during the pandemic was the vaccination of children. She believes that the project and the EU support had crucial impact, adding “I am very sure that the health centres would not have prioritised children’s vaccinations if there had not been this action from us with the support of the EU.”
About the project
The Programme for Mitigating the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Lives of Children and Families in the Western Balkans and Turkey is a two-year initiative launched in 2021 by Unicef and the European Commission.
The purpose of the initiative is to strengthen national health, education, early childhood development, and child protection systems to ensure core services for vulnerable children and their families in the immediate and longer-term recovery response to COVID-19. Through this €5 million programme, 490,000 children and parents are expected to have better access to public services that promote early childhood development, education, health, and protection as part of the COVID-19 recovery.
Photo credits: Unicef
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