Children in Tiaty and Baringo South sub-counties have had to go without life-saving vaccines after health facilities closed down due to insecurity.
The areas affected include Tuwo, Akwichatis, Toplen, Nakoko, Riong’o, Chepkalacha, Katikit, Kositei, Chemoril, Nasorot and Komolion in Tiaty and Mukutani Health Centre in Baringo South Sub-County.
And hundreds of locals have fled their homes fearing what they termed as harassment by security officers deployed to mop up illegal guns and smoke out armed criminals.
“What will happen to our infants who need to be immunised? Now that we have been forced to live in the bushes, they are at risk of contracting diseases,” lamented Ms Kalimreng.
Her infant is among thousands in the vast region who are yet to be immunised, a vital intervention that cushions children against infections by boosting their immunity levels.
Getting immunised greatly reduces child mortality from preventable diseases.
Health centre closed
The situation is the same in Mukutani, at the border of Tiaty and Baringo South sub-counties.
The health facility has been closed for more than four years due to sporadic bandit attacks.
According to the county’s Vaccine and Immunisation Officer Lenah Kosgei, inoculation of children under one year in Tiaty East Sub-County dropped from 15 per cent in December last year to just two per cent in April this year.
For instance, 141 children were immunised in December last year, compared to only 18 children in the entire sub-county in April this year.
A majority of children, including those aged above 10 years in malaria-prone Akoret, Kapau, Kongor, Atirir, Chesawach, Kaghat, Gulel, Tayier, Kaghat, Chesotim, Lokis, Kreze, Ng’aina, Nasorot, Akwichatis, Riong’o and Napukut are yet to get a single vaccine since birth.
In 2017 and 2019, more than 20 children in the remote parts of Tirioko ward died from malaria after walking tens of kilometres looking for a health facility.
Kongor dispensary project, not far from Tirioko, stalled after payments to the contractor were delayed.
The facility was expected to serve more than 20 villages within a radius of 50km.
Children are normally immunised to protect them from hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type B, human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis, measles, mumps, pneumococcal diseases, rotaviruses rubella, tetanus, yellow fever, tuberculosis, chickenpox and polio.
Immunisation cushions children against diseases caused by bacteria or viruses by either making them immune, controlling the severity of the diseases or preventing the ailments from recurring.
Not vaccinated since 2017
Ms Betty Lakangaran, a resident of Mukutani, claimed that children in the area have not been vaccinated – or treated for lethal diseases – since 2017.
“Immunisation of children here is unheard of here since the facility was shut four years ago. The nearest dispensary is in Kiserian, more than 30km away. We have resigned to our fate and pray to God to keep us healthy because, in case of a disease outbreak, we will lose lives,” she lamented.
Ms Elizabeth Lowiale, a community health volunteer from the remote Nasorot village, said most children in the area die of treatable diseases including malaria, which is very common.
Ms Lowiale added that those under five years of age are at greater risk because of low immunity.
“Children in this locality have not been immunised due to lack of health services. The health centre constructed by the devolved unit is incomplete and the neighbouring Akwichatis, more than 30km away, was shut down late last year due to insecurity,” said Ms Lowiale.
Mr William Loremoi, a nurse at Riong’o Dispensary, said most children under five years in the area have not been immunised because there are no health facilities.
“The children are the worst hit when there is an upsurge of malaria, which is rampant in this area and most of them die before reaching the facility due to lack of immunisation to boost their immunity levels. Many children here also suffer from tuberculosis, measles and polio,” said Mr Loremoi.
In the vast Akoret division, Tirioko ward, there is not a single operational health facility.
Locals have the option of walking for more than 100km to Chemolingot Sub-County Hospital or Kapedo Health Centre, more than 45km away, but many cannot access these facilities due to the runaway insecurity.
Another resident, Mr Akoriye Kumatile, said they have to walk to Lomut and Sigor in the neighbouring West Pokot County in search of the vital services.
“I feel we are lesser Kenyans and have been left on our own. How can you explain a situation where there is not a single operational facility in an entire division, leave alone a mobile clinic? We have lost many children over the years due to treatable diseases occasioned by lack of immunisation, which could have been managed if we had a facility,” said Mr Kumatile.
Locals, who used to rely on outreach missions sponsored by World Vision, Red Cross and religious organisations, are badly exposed.
Health workers leave
County Health Medical Director Salome Chelimo said non-local health workers pulled out of the banditry-prone region after the disarmament by the government began in January this year.
The official regretted that specific indicators including immunisation of children, family planning, maternal and child health care had been greatly affected, with locals resorting to herbalists, who are not reliable in case of emergencies.
“Lack of health services especially during the rainy season would spark outbreaks of diseases such as malaria, respiratory and diarrheal cases mainly among children who have not been immunised,” said Ms Chelimo.
Tiaty is one of the country’s malaria hotpots.
In 2019, dozens of children and expectant women lost their lives to the disease in the remote villages.
The director said the county recently distributed mosquito nets to malaria-prone areas but Tiaty was left out because of limited access.
“With the long rains, we are sitting on a time bomb in Tiaty, which is a malaria and pneumonia hotspot,” she noted.
A spot check by Nation.africa in several villages revealed that several children did not get immunised and those who did, did not complete the doses recommended doses by the Ministry of Health.