A new nurse finds purpose as a volunteer vaccinator in Tigray

When Selamawit Araya joined Adigrat University four years ago to study nursing, she was filled with hope and anticipation. She imagined a future where she would work as a nurse in a hospital. But in her final year of study, things took an unexpected turn when war broke out in Tigray. She returned to Mekelle as soon as she finished her exams, and got certified as a nurse in February amid the tensions across the region.

Since her graduation, she has been volunteering at camps for the internally displaced (IDP camps) in Mekelle, where she screens patients for chronic diseases, refers those that need further attention, and conducts nutrition assessments on infants and children. It is as she was working at Yekatit 23 (School) IDP Camp that she was selected to attend a training on oral cholera vaccines delivered by the Tigray Regional Health Bureau, Ethiopian Public Health Institute, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“I am grateful for this training because it equipped me with the right knowledge to contribute to the protection of my people from a cholera outbreak, which can be devastating in the living conditions,” Selamawit says. The training covered topics including the causes and prevention of cholera, adverse outcomes, and treatment. “We learned about the oral cholera vaccine as an effective prevention method, and on how to administer the vaccine. As I administer the vaccine, I explain to the recipients in Tigrigna about the vaccine and the need to maintain hygiene and sanitation.”

Selamawit adds that she is hopeful that the situation in Tigray will normalize soon and she can secure paid employment. In the meantime, she is happy to volunteer at IDP camps to serve the displaced communities with her nursing skills.

Following the conflict that erupted in Tigray at the end of 2020, more than 2 million people have been displaced, with over 1.7 million of them within the region. The crowded living conditions in IDP camps, inadequate sanitation, scarcity of clean water, and the rainy season from June to September put both the displaced and the host communities at risk of a cholera outbreak. The region is also prone to cholera outbreaks, having experienced outbreaks in the past five consecutive years prior to 2021.

An oral cholera vaccination campaign targeting to cover 2 million people aged one year and above with two doses of oral cholera vaccines is being conducted in the region. To ensure maximum protection, the campaign is being conducted in integration with the provision of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) items such as water purification tablets, bars of soap, and jerry cans.

WHO is providing technical guidance and operations support to the campaign led by the Tigray Regional Health Bureau and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI). The vaccines were provided by the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision through the Global Taskforce for Cholera Control (GTFCC) with funding of the operational cost by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. WHO also facilitated the request, procurement, and shipment of the vaccines.

Cholera is a highly contagious disease transmitted through contaminated water or food. It causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration that must be treated immediately to prevent death, which can occur in just a few hours, and to prevent the disease from spreading on a large scale in a high-risk environment. Disease surveillance, improved water, sanitation, and hygiene services as well as treatment and vaccines are crucial in preventing cholera and containing infection spread. Coverage with a full two-round dose of oral cholera vaccine provides protection for up to five years.

Source: World Health Organization. Africa