Friday, 15 May 2015

Sulaeha’s story: Saving lives in Sumenep

Sulaeha is a mother of three from Sumenep in East Java. She has always been concerned about the welfare of not only her family but also her wider community. So Sulaeha recently decided to become a health volunteer.

“Just because I am not a trained health worker, does not mean I cannot help improve the health of children in my area,” Sulaeha says. “What I can do is help back-up important health facts with religious content.”

Sulaeha is the daughter of a respected religious leader and an active member of Fatayat – the women’s sub-unit of the Islamic organisation Nadhlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organisations in the world with around 80 million members. So she has a broad knowledge of the Islamic religion.

Sulaeha runs health workshops in her local mosque ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015

Sulaeha’s volunteer role is to convince parents that immunisation is not only critical for their children but also in line with Islamic teachings. This is very important in an area like Sumenep, where a large majority of people follow Islam.

Access to health information is very limited in Sumenep. As a result,  there are many misconceptions about immunisation related to social, cultural and religious beliefs. These misconceptions range from a fear of side effects to questions of whether or not the vaccines are consistent with Islamic teachings.

Sulaeha travels around the local area to promote immunisation with communication materials developed by UNICEF in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Health. These materials help her teach the important technical aspects of immunisation and counter harmful misconceptions.

Women in Sumenep review a UNICEF immunisation flip chart ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015

The results of the latest Indonesian Health Surveys – the Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey (IDHS) 2012 and Riskesdas 2013 – confirm low immunisation coverage throughout Indonesia, including in Sumenep. The UNICEF-commissioned Immunisation Drop Out study (2011) found that social, cultural and religious misconceptions are a key barrier to utilisation of services and completion of immunisation by parents.

To help counter this, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Indonesian Ministry of Health are cooperating with the Indonesia Ulema Council to conduct advocacy road shows and communication workshops in places like Sumenep.

As for Sulaeha, she will continue her volunteer work. She often brings her young son to the sessions. He’s up-to-date on his immunisation schedule. But Sulaeha won’t rest until all the other children of Sumenep are too.