In the first quarter of 2022, Bamako recorded nearly fifty suspected cases of measles. Public health officials collected samples and fourteen cases were confirmed at the national reference laboratory.  Several of the 14 positive cases were concentrated in Communes I and IV of Bamako. This distribution of cases meant that Bamako had reached an epidemic threshold, which required a response in both communes and the surrounding areas. Measles is extremely contagious, and unfortunately, Mali registered in the top 10 countries for the highest number of cases reported from September 2021 – February 2022.

The primary reason for the measles outbreak is that thousands of children missed their routine vaccinations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the exact number of under-immunized and “zero-dose” children is unknown. But Mali is not unique in experiencing a measles outbreak. Just as we saw with Ebola, the interruption of routine primary healthcare caused by the pandemic could be as or more deadly than the coronavirus itself.

In order to support the regional health authorities in containing the epidemic, the Mali Health team initiated and supported a vaccination campaign to reach unvaccinated children in partner communities across Bamako.

The vaccination campaign mobilized more than 200 vaccination teams over a period of five days to vaccinate children age 9 – 59 months. Each vaccination team was composed of three agents including one agent for the mobilization and organization of the community, one agent to conduct the injections, and one agent to maintain the documentation and records. Though we requested 120 000 doses of VAR vaccines, only 45 000 doses were made available, along with 4,000 vaccine registry forms.

A member of the vaccination team completes the vaccine registry
A member of the vaccination team completes the vaccine registry

The vaccination campaign included the following activities:

  • Communication and outreach: The vaccination teams shared health information messages about measles and vaccination throughout 17 communities by working with the ASACOs (community health association) in each community, as well as a network of women leaders to whom we connected through our partners in the Service Local de Développement Social et de l’Economie Solidaire (SLDSES). Some of the concerns among the community included hesitation and misinformation about vaccines in general, as well as mistrust related to COVID-19 disinformation and rumors.
  • Case identification and management: The vaccination team actively searched for suspected measles cases in each community. Of those suspected, 12 cases were confirmed through the collection and analysis of samples.
  • Monitoring of adverse events following immunization (AEFI): Some minor AEFIs (fever, vomiting, pain at the injection site in older children) were reported during the campaign, which were referred to the CSCom (community health center) teams, who provided treatment and case management.
  • Safe waste disposal: The proper treatment of medical waste is one of the many areas we work on in our participatory quality improvement program, but resources can often be limited at CSComs. All injection and vaccine materials during this campaign were disposed of in safety boxes and packaged in waterproof cartons to hold them safely until they could be incinerated.
  • Sharing results: To ensure transparency and build tryst, Mali Health shared the results of the vaccination campaign with community leaders and community members from the areas served.
  • Monitoring and field supervision: To support each vaccination team, 5 additional agents in each community (85 total) were deployed alongside them to help support and manage the flow of vaccination activities, ensure the vaccination teams remained fully equipped, coordinate with the community health system (CSCom), and assist in any other needs that arose for the vaccination teams. They monitored results and progress each day and were in the field with the vaccination teams for all five days of the campaign.
During the campaign, Dr. Bathily reviews the day's progress with a vaccination team
During the campaign, Dr. Bathily reviews the day’s progress with a vaccination team

The vaccination teams deployed across 17 communities over five days achieving the following results:

  • 44,685 children vaccinated
    • 16,082 under age 1 (between 9-11 months)
    • 28,603 age 1 – 5 years
  • 94.6% of children under age 1 (15,211) received their first dose of measles vaccine (VAR)
  • 90% of children age 1- 5 years (25,754) received their first dose of measles vaccine (VAR)

Despite these results, we estimate that there are approximately 117,795 children under age 5 across the 17 target communities, leaving tens of thousands of more children in need of vaccinations. Based on the results of this vaccination campaign, it is likely that the majority of these remaining children are also unvaccinated.

While every child enrolled in our community health program received their vaccines on-time throughout the pandemic, and we worked very hard to support our partner health centers in maintaining the continuity of care for women and children in their communities, tens of thousands of children across remain unreached and under-immunized. We hope to continue vaccination activities as we search for more funding to meet urgent needs and as more vaccines are made available.