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Fleeing Civil War – With Immunization Records in Hand

July 08, 2011

I’ve just come back from a field visit to Sri Lanka, still recovering from a 25-year civil war.

Despite this and a tsunami in 2004, the tropical island has maintained its immunisation coverage at consistently close to 100 percent. Sri Lanka’s government and population of 20 million people are extremely committed to immunisation. Even without the stunning beaches, coconut trees, and mountain scenery, it was a pleasure to assist.

GAVI’s Health Systems Support (HSS) programme is helping rebuild clinics in the island’s northeast regions, where entire communities are returning to their villages since the war ended two years ago.

Not that the war dented Sri Lankan desire for immunisation.

Fleeing the fighting, Sri Lankans would leave their money and possessions but never their immunisation records. Even when crossing rivers and other barriers to run away, they wrapped their immunisation cards in plastic.

GAVI’s money is also helping to train medical staff in a wide range of primary healthcare issues, as well as renovate the health centres.

There’s no shortage of commitment from the communities, where mountains of paperwork follow every child’s nutrition status, growth, and immunisation history.

And in one village that I visited, a landlord had donated a room in a house for the public health midwife, so that his community could have access to primary care. In another village, the community built their own health center, so that government can staff the clinic for MCH services.

With an average annual income per person of more than $1,500 (U.S.), Sri Lanka will soon be wealthy enough to graduate from GAVI support.

One day, we can hope, the civil war will be a distant memory.

Immunisation, I’m sure, will be present for many years to come!

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