“It’s between 11 a.m. and noon at the moment. Anyone who knows shadows knows that,” says Djeynabou Abdoulaye, smiling. She has come to the village school in Tassakane, Mali, to get her child vaccinated against measles. “We’re lucky it’s not raining today.”
Despite the official end of the war in 2015, the Timbuktu region in northern Mali remains tense, and security incidents and criminality have had a significant impact on people’s ability to access health care. This, in turn, has led to low rates of vaccination coverage, especially among children. A number of measles cases were reported in the area starting in February.
In response, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) worked alongside the Malian Ministry of Health (MoH) to launch a vaccination campaign in September. Working together, the teams reached more than 50,000 children between six months and 14 years old.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. The symptoms appear approximately 10 days after exposure and can include a high fever, rash, runny nose, cough, and pink eye. A child with measles can quickly become malnourished or develop other more serious complications that can affect their eyes or their brain. When combined with malnutrition or malaria—both common in this region—the effects of the disease can be devastating.
But there is a safe, cheap, and effective vaccine—one of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) routine childhood vaccinations. The challenge comes in reaching those children who have gone unvaccinated, as well as ensuring that the doses of vaccine are kept at a cold enough temperature to remain fully effective.