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Liberia: Newborn babies at risk

Hospitals claim BCG vaccine shortage, but health authorities say vaccines are here

By Bridgett Milton

Reports from several hospitals in the country have revealed a shortage of Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which is given to babies in the first week of births. But health authorities have debunked their claims saying the vaccine is in country.

BCG vaccine is primarily used against tuberculosis but is recommended for babies as soon after birth. But in Liberia, parents will have to wait for days if not weeks to secure the vaccine for their newborn.

Scores of parents told the New Dawn last week that they were being turned away from hospitals as health practitioners claimed the vaccine was not available at the hospitals they visited-mostly privates.

Mr. Adolphus Clark Head of Vaccines at Ministry of Health

A lady who gave birth at the ELWA hospital last month around the festive season, panicked after being told by health workers that the BCG vaccine was not available at the hospital and that it is scarce in the country.

Her fears heightened when told by another baby mother that this important vaccine for babies was not in the country.

After days of asking here and there, she was able to locate the vaccine at the New Georgia Health Center, where many mothers had rushed their newborn babies to get a shot.

A tour of some major hospitals in Monrovia confirmed the absence of the vaccine as newborn babies’ mothers were told to check back.

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Scores of new mothers who interacted with this paper during our tour of hospitals expressed concerns over the lack of the vaccine at major health centers in the city.

At the ELWA Hospital, health authorities told the New Dawn that they have been out of the BCG vaccine for four to five months. Not only that but authorities there said they have been short of other vaccines mainly for children.

The ELWA Hospital administration said they have placed several calls to the Montserrado Health Office but were told that the vaccine is not in the country.

At the Redemption Hospital on Bushrod Island, health authorities there said they could not speak to the issue but redirected our reporter to the Ministry of Health.

At the Catholic Hospital, the administration also declined to comment but few health workers who spoke on the condition of anonymity told this paper that the hospital has been out of the vaccine for two months.

At the John F. Kennedy hospital, our reporter saw several babies’ mothers leaving the hospital compound without their babies being vaccinated.

According to some of the mothers who spoke to this paper, they were informed by nurses to check back the next day.

When this paper contacted the JKF administration, the head vaccinator who declined to mention her name said JFK has the vaccine in stock, but the mothers were being turned away because Thursday is not a vaccination day at the hospital.

She further explained that JFK has all the vaccines that babies are to take, adding that they have vaccines to serve up to 400 children. She noted that each bottle of BCG vaccine can serve about 10 children, and therefore they have days to serve.

When this paper contacted the Ministry of Health, the head of vaccination at the Ministry, Mr.  Adolphus Clark said there is no shortage of BCG in the country.

He went on further to state that the Ministry of Health was expecting 10,000 doses of BCG in the country on Monday, January 9th. He said the consignment will serve the country for a longer period.

Told that some hospitals are claiming they don’t have the vaccine, he said there is a procedure at the ministry of health when it comes to vaccine distribution in the country.

” When any hospital is short on a vaccine they have to request for supplies and when they request it is given” Clark added.

Mr. Clark further explained that there are procedures for requesting the vaccines, urging authorities of health facilities to follow what he called lead time, by communicating with their respective county health officers on time.

He also emphasized the importance of accountability in the supply, calling on health authorities to account for doses received during their request for additional doses.

When health workers at the ELWA hospital were told that the Ministry of Health is saying that the BCG vaccine is in town, they were cynical, saying “if they say it is here, then let them give us just two bottles.”

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The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by Searchlight Communications Inc. Established on November 16, 2009, with its first hard copy publication on January 22, 2010. The office is located on UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is bilingual (both English & French).
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