Ethiopia is now facing one of the worst droughts in decades, and rising rates of malnutrition are leaving children vulnerable to infectious diseases, including measles. To prevent an outbreak in the drought-affected regions, UNICEF and partners are helping the government vaccinate some 25 million children nationwide.

By Paul Schemm (UNICEF) |

Tigray Region, Ethiopia – The little girls and boys line up at the Mereb Mieti Health Center, rolling up their sleeves and baring their arms in turn as the nurse deftly administers the measles vaccine.

Some flinch, a few even cry or bury their heads in their mothers dresses, but afterwards they all play near the front of the health center, comparing the tiny marks the needles had left in their skin.

It is day four of the measles vaccination campaign in Enderta Woreda (district) in Tigray, one of the areas most affected by Ethiopia’s drought. Many children in the community were not previously vaccinated against measles, and there are fears of an outbreak. The risk is particularly high among children whose immunity has been weakened due to malnutrition, which has been rising because of the drought.

Mobilizing for vaccination

Alemnesh Teka’s is part of the Women’s Health Development Army, a group of volunteers enlisted to work at the household level to promote community health. She is responsible for 30 households and her role is to make sure that all of the children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years come to get vaccinated.

“Everyone knows that before, children used to die from measles and many went blind and had skin rashes,” she says outside the health center, as the children crowd around her. “So when they say it’s time for the measles vaccine, people know it’s important to come.”

Alemnesh knows first hand about the dangers of measles and remembers when she was younger how prevalent it could be.

“In my village where I lived, the measles came and six children died,” she says. “My sister died.”

School-aged children will be immunized at campaigns conducted at schools, but many of the children milling around the health center amid the dry, drought-stricken hills of this kebele (sub-district) are too young for school.

Aggravated by drought

Measles is a highly infectious disease that spreads through water droplets the air and can lead to severe complications, including pneumonia, diarrhea and brain infections.

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