This is a guest blog by Dr. Amani Abdelmoniem Mustafa, manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunization for Sudan.
KHARTOUM, Sudan — The day that we were waiting for arrived. The children of Sudan have long suffered terrible, sometimes deadly, diarrhea caused by rotavirus. Fortunately, there is a vaccine that can save our children from so much suffering. After years of waiting, it was finally delivered to Sudan.
The first stop was the Khartoum International Airport. It was a great event.
The Martinair flight landed at 7:45 at night. The media with their cameras huddled in the non-permitted area where the flights land. They were accompanied by cars with generators to light up the runway. Those of us on Sudan’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) team crowded into the packed VIP hall. We had the challenging and exciting job of making sure this new vaccine travels the length and breadth of the country to reach all the children. At that moment, we wanted to be as close as possible to watch the vaccine coming to Sudan.
In the airport, everyone was asking, “Who is coming?”
It was a good question. Some of us said, “It is a force to fight back diarrhea in Sudanese children.” Others said, “It is Mrs. Health.”
Arrangements were made with the manager of the customs department to release the vaccine directly from under the flight. It was packed in three refrigerated vehicles and, accompanied by the convoy, moved directly to the central cold warehouse. There, the packages were unloaded and checked. Everything had arrived safely. At last, the vaccine was in our hands.
Nineteen days later, on July 17, the EPI team arrived early at the Ministry of Health. Wearing special green uniforms to honor the day, they looked like children at a festival. It was a day of festivities — it was launching day for the rotavirus vaccine.
The team distributed sweets and educational notes about the vaccine to Ministry of Health staff who came out of their offices when they heard music. The official military band circled the Ministry of Health inside and out to attract everybody’s attention.
Then we all left in a big convoy for the official launching site at the Samir Health Center. Representatives from all the partner organizations who had contributed to this achievement came. His Excellency the Minister of Health arrived with His Excellency the President’s Advisor and Representative. Speeches were made and a special song sung about rotavirus.
Reporters from TV channels, radio stations and newspapers gathered around as the Minister of Health cut the ribbon to the entrance of the vaccination room. Inside, mothers and children were waiting.
The first child to be vaccinated was a boy named Jasir Tarig. His mother looked scared of all the people and the picture-taking. I asked her the age of her child. “He is 43 days,” she said proudly.
Without anybody noticing, I put my hand over Jasir’s head and recited some Quran statements that we Muslims say when we want to protect our children from harm. I prayed to God in my heart that the vaccine would keep him well. I prayed that the vaccine would give health and protection to all our children.
The baby was so calm and beautiful as the President’s Advisor gave him his rotavirus vaccination. We congratulated his mother and wished that the boy would be the first in his school, too.
Truly, the arrival of the rotavirus vaccine recharged our spirits. It will keep our momentum high to continue with our efforts. Now I am thinking about the new vaccine against pneumonia. I hope it will come soon to protect our children from another deadly disease.