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Issa Ramass holding her three-month-old daughter Towarias.

Issa beams with pride as she carries her new daughter, Towarias, to a community health meeting. Photo: Heng Chivoan.

Better access to vaccination helps mothers like Issa Ramass keep their babies safe

Walking from her rural home to a nearby village on a sunny morning, 25-year-old Issa Ramass is the picture of progress in Cambodia. Issa beams with pride as she carries her new daughter, three-month-old Towarias, to a community health meeting in a rural corner of Kampong Cham Province.

About a hundred mothers gather outside under some shade trees, waiting with their babies on a presentation about children’s health care. Towarias, brown eyes shining underneath a bright red, knitted cap, is ready for her second round of vaccinations today. Not long ago, Cambodian children often missed critical vaccinations against preventable diseases, such as measles, polio, and diphtheria, but that situation is improving rapidly.

Still recovering from years of war, Cambodia is in a rebuilding mode. And PATH is a partner in one of the country’s biggest successes so far.

In 2002, we teamed up with the Cambodian Ministry of Health and other organizations to identify communities that immunization services had missed—and to find ways to include them.

PATH developed communication strategies for mass media and for rural settings to inform parents, answer their concerns, and create a demand for vaccinations. Before this effort, the burden fell mostly on health workers to seek out rural families one by one and vaccinate children. Today, parents know more and are therefore more likely to bring their children to health meetings or clinics. That means more and more children are getting their shots.

In fact, the results are nothing short of amazing. In 2001, only 39 percent of Cambodian children were fully immunized. By October of 2006, that number had risen to 67 percent.

But the best chapter of this success story unfolds at the village health meeting, where Issa and the other moms listen to the health worker and then get their children vaccinated. These women don’t have the luxuries of a comprehensive health system—a family doctor, a local pharmacy, and easy access to health information—or even regular access to transportation, clean water, electricity, or the other “conveniences” those of us in wealthy countries enjoy.

Clearly, Issa would do anything to keep Towarias safe, and now she has one more tool against threats to her child’s health: the lifesaving protection of immunization.