Immunisation 4 Life Article for “Health Matters” the HSE staff magazine
Immunisation 4 Life is a group of volunteer health professionals from the West of Ireland, many of whom currently work or have worked with the HSE, who came together in 2009 to organise immunisation programmes and child health clinics for under 5s in the poorer countries of the world and to provide teams in emergency and developing situations to support existing charities and NGOs.
The group consists of experienced Public Health Nurses and Doctors with Dr Kevin Connolly (former Consultant Paediatrician, Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe) as Medical Director. In addition to Dr. Connolly, founder members include Maura Moran, PHN Headford; Carmel Whiriskey, RM, RG, Loughrea; Corrine Mannion, RM, Galway; Katherine Farrell, PHN, Barna; Marilyn Kelly, Asst. Director of Public Health Nursing, Galway; Dr Mary Fitzgerald, Senior AMO, Galway; Dr Kathryn Chambers, AMO, Galway; Mary Holian, former PHN, Tuam; and Maeve Gacquin, Senior Dietician, Galway Clinic.
In 2011, Immunisation 4 Life created a partnership with a well-established charity in Zambia, called the NERI Clinics, ( www.nericlinics.org) which has a busy Primary Health Care clinic in the Linda Province on the outskirts of the capital Lusaka. The NERI Clinics are managed by two Irish GPs and run by qualified health professionals from Zambia. To date Immunisation 4 Life has undertaken three trips to the NERI Clinics involving 21 volunteers. The average trip lasts for 10 days and the volunteers travel on their own time, taking holidays from work and paying for the trip themselves.
Maura Moran is one of the driving forces behind the group. She had previous experience volunteering with an NGO in emergency situations in Africa and recognised that there was huge good will and experience in the West of Ireland that could be used to help those living in the developing countries. She said, “I knew from my experience in Africa before I started working with the HSE that there were children and families living in very difficult circumstances and that we have such abundance here that it would take very little to make a huge difference in other people’s lives. I was lucky that I met like-minded people and together we started this charity.
“In addition to looking at immunisation we are also very interested in providing support to address the problem of malnutrition which isn’t just a case of lack of food but rather lack of appropriate food. On one of our early trips to Zambia we surveyed the nutritional status of children under 5 years in the Linda Province and found that 2% were severely malnourished and 17% had moderate malnutrition. This has serious short and long term implications for the health and wellbeing of these children and in order to address the problem we developed a nutritional programme which involved recruiting and training the Community Health Workers to screen for malnutrition and then to assist in running a weekly nutrition and under 5s clinic where moderately malnourished children attend for extra feeding or supplementary feeding. Up to 150 children attend this weekly clinic at any one time where they are monitored for progress until they have achieved ideal weight for height, and maintain it for 4 weeks.
“Without this clinic many of the children with severe malnutrition would be referred to the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka where they would be admitted for at least 8 weeks. A family member, usually the mother has to stay with the child which is disruptive to family life and could compromise the wellbeing of other children at home. And also unfortunately the mortality rates are very high at 30%. It is too soon to gather data on the success of the nutrition clinics we have developed but we know that we are able to provide the necessary care to these children in their community without the disruption that a hospital stay would cause.
“We are also committed to providing a rapid response to provide vaccination programmes in emergency situations such as refugee camps, conflict situations and natural disasters. As a dynamic, flexible and motivated group of professionals, our priority is to implement a successful vaccination programme which will benefit thousands of children. We have a special interest in the measles vaccination but are willing to participate in any vaccination programme that will help save lives.
“We are just at the start of a long journey but already we have seen the difference we can make which spurs us forward. We have recruited volunteers who are highly qualified with relevant medical and nursing experience and we have developed our clinical and administration guidelines. We can offer expertise in immunisation and child health to NGOs and Governments and we support the Millenium Development Goals through education, participation and collaboration with local agencies and relevant groups.
Stephanie Coen, Midwife, Galway University Hospitals, admitting mothers and their babies to the nutrition clinic in the Linda Province, Lusaka, Zambia in June 2012.