Braving rough terrain and skepticism: Timor-Leste's health workers go the extra mile in vaccination campaign
28 February 2023
In the remote and rugged Manatuto district of Timor-Leste.
A fierce vaccinator named Maria Cecilia is determined to ensure that life-saving vaccines reach every community, no matter how remote or challenging the terrain. Cecilia, a 42-year-old nurse and resident of Laclo, has dedicated her career to improving the health and well-being of her community.
Cecilia and her team play a crucial role in the integrated immunization campaign rolled out in Timor-Leste on January 12, supported by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other partners. This campaign includes essential vaccines such as Measles Rubella (MR), Oral Polio (OPV), Pneumococcal (PCV), Vitamin A supplements, deworming (Albendazole) tablets for children below 5 years, and COVID-19 vaccines for those above 12 years.
Nurse Maria Cecilia at a residence of a community member in Laclo, a sub-district in Manatuto Photo: Cirilo Danis/WHO Timor-Leste
The pandemic disrupted routine health programs, and many people had missed out on crucial health interventions over the past two years. Routine immunization programs for children were hampered as health workers were diverted for COVID-19 duties, and parents were hesitant to bring their children to health centers due to fear of catching the infection.
With support from WHO consultants on the ground, health workers like Cecilia are now tasked with a mission to reach every last person in the district and the remotest villages to ensure that eligible beneficiaries received the vaccines, supplements, and deworming tablets.
However, health workers on the field do not always receive a warm welcome. Some communities are hesitant to receive the vaccines and supplements due to skepticism or misinformation about their benefits. Nevertheless, Cecilia and her team work tirelessly to educate the people and explain the importance of the vaccines in the simplest ways possible.
Nurse Maria Cecilia and her team delivering vaccines in Laclo. Photo: Cirilo Danis/WHO Timor-Leste
The journey to reach beneficiaries is often challenging due to the long and winding roads, treacherous terrain, and lack of transportation. “We have only one car, which has to be shared with health workers from other programs, making it difficult to reach remote areas in a timely manner,” said Cecilia.
Despite the challenges, Cecilia and her team spend countless hours talking to the people of Laclo, addressing their concerns and dispelling any myths and misconceptions about the vaccines. They listen to the worries of the people, and they work tirelessly to ensure that parents bring their children to immunization posts or mobile clinics for vaccination.
Their persistence pays off in the end, as the people of Laclo begin to see the value of receiving the vaccines and are eager to be protected from preventable diseases. They line up, smiling, to receive their shots, and as Cecilia and her team travel from village to village, they are met with gratitude and appreciation.
"The Ministry of Health's field health workers and the WHO consultants deployed across Timor-Leste have accomplished extraordinary feats,” said WHO Representative Dr Arvind Mathur. “They have braved mountains, crossed rivers, and walked for hours to reach even a single beneficiary in remote areas. The integrated campaign's success is a testament to the unwavering dedication of these public health heroes," he added.