Friday, 29 September 2017

Going all out for every child: East Java's success in the Measles-Rubella campaign

By UNICEF Indonesia

East Java Governor Dr. Soekarwo (centre) helps one boy with his MR vaccine at an Islamic boarding school in Madura, East Java ©Office of the East Java Governor/2017

Surabaya: As Indonesia’s largest-ever immunisation campaign draws to a close, it is clear that its success is due to strong government leadership and committed partners working together.

The 2017 Measles and Rubella (MR) vaccination campaign aims to immunize 35 million children aged 9 months to 15 years old across Java Island, where half of Indonesia’s population lives. 

Led by the Government of Indonesia, with support from partners such as UNICEF, GAVI, the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) and others, planning for the two-month campaign began many months prior to the 1 August launch to ensure the ambitious targets were met. 

The campaign in East Java Province typifies this collaborative approach, as strong leadership by the provincial government has been instrumental in enabling the province to exceed the  benchmark set down by the central government of  95 per cent coverage. 

East Java Governor Dr. Soekarwo has been a champion of the MR campaign since it was first announced in July, when he took the extraordinary step of convening all 38 district heads and mayors to sign a pact pledging all 9 million children in the province would be vaccinated.

“We are happy to have achieved our target of 95 percent coverage,” Dr. Soekarwo said in an evaluation meeting organized by UNICEF and the East Java Provincial Health Office on 27 September. “But we have promised that we would deliver 100 percent. And this should happen across the province.” 

Thanks to the tireless work of East Java’s thousands of district health officials who performed the immunizations in schools and local health centres, the magic number of 100 per cent coverage is within reach.

Making sure the public is properly informed is another area where the government and its partners have worked hand-in-hand. Ahead of the campaign, UNICEF helped the Ministry of Health create a social media campaign and craft a series of television spots that reached tens of thousands of parents with key messages on the need to protect their children from Measles and Rubella.

Committed advocacy by pro-vaccine alliances, Muslim social organizations (including the Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah), the Indonesia Midwives Association (IBI) and others were pivotal in forming local responses to concerns as they arose.

The Surabaya-based Jawa Pos, Indonesia’s largest media house, played a key role too, working with the Government to dispel myths and misconceptions about the safety of the vaccine, and to highlight breakthroughs and propose solutions for challenges faced by doctors and health workers on the ground.

In Madura Island the Government held a special town hall meeting with prominent Islamic clerics to promote the vaccine as safe and halal (allowed by Islamic law), and the MUI issued a written statement in support of vaccines such as MR. The MR vaccine has been used in over 140 countries around the world, including in other Muslim-majority countries like Saudi Arabia. 

The powerful blend of provincial leadership and grassroots support clearly paid off as the MR vaccination campaign reached its target even in Madura, which has historically recorded the lowest coverage of immunized children both regionally and nationally. 

“Immunization is the most effective and efficient health intervention focused on prevention and promotion, not treatment,” said Governor Soekarwo. “East Java believes that prevention and promotion are the future models of healthcare in Indonesia. And that is why we firmly invest in this belief for our children.”
Next year the campaign will resume on islands outside Java, where another 35 million children aged 9 months to 15 years will be targeted.

“The leadership shown by the East Java government during this year’s MR campaign is a model for other governments to emulate,” says Arie Rukmantara, who heads the UNICEF office in Surabaya. “It shows what kind of results for children are possible when committed leaders and civil society work together toward a shared goal.”