Mobile Health Boosts Immunization In Urban Slum
The line curls out of the door and into the alley, where dozens of mothers stand patiently, cradling newborns under the early morning drizzle.
Like other young mothers in this West Jakarta slum, Eka* looks forward to the opening of the posyandu (community-level health post) each month. “At the posyandu I get my baby checked and vaccinated for free,” she said.
The UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, Karin Hulshof, met Eka during a visit to Indonesia in April to learn about the challenges and achievements of UNICEF’s work in this up-and-coming middle-income country of more than 250 million people.
Eka lives in one of hundreds of informal settlements that have sprouted up due to accelerating rural-urban migration rates in Jakarta. While these slums can be vibrant zones of community life, they are typically poor, densely populated, and located near riverbanks, where flooding is common and sanitation is poor.
Without residency papers, urban slum dwellers often cannot access essential health services like immunisation, greatly increasing the risk of disease outbreaks. Since 2015, UNICEF has been piloting a mobile health solution for boosting vaccine coverage among children aged 12 to 23 months in several Jakarta slums. Local health workers go door-to-door to register newborns using RapidPro, an interactive messaging system. In the following months, automated SMS are sent to parents to remind them to bring their children for vaccinations at the right time. Progress is evident. Nearly 3000 infants have been reached and the programme is being replicated in neighbouring East and Central Java provinces.
Community-based initiatives like this are essential to boosting low immunization coverage, according to Karin. “The level of engagement here between mothers, health workers and government officials was marvelous,” she said. “It is hard not to feel that if all children living in informal settlements in Jakarta have access to the kind of services here, the indicator [on low rates of immunization] will start to come up.”
Though grinding poverty and social exclusion leave indelible marks, “there was a lot of heart on display here, a lot of dedication to improving the community,” she added.
Eka*- Not her real name.
Eka* waits at the local health post in Cengkareng, West Jakarta to take her youngest daughter for a health check-up. (©UNICEF Indonesia/2017/Cory Rogers)
UNICEF Regional Director Karin Hulshof wipes a tear away from a child who is to receive a health check-up at a local health post in West Jakarta. (©UNICEF Indonesia/2017/Cory Rogers)