Immunisation protects a child against several diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles. A child is immunised by vaccines which are injected or given by mouth. The vaccines work by building up the child's defences to diseases. It is vital to immunise children early in life. Half of all the deaths from whooping cough, one third of all cases of polio, and a quarter of all deaths from measles occur before the age of one. All immunisation should be completed in the first year of the child's life. It is also very important to complete the full course of immunisations, otherwise vaccines will not work. Some vaccines need to be given only once, others up to three times.

A pool of skilled health workers trained through the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (UNEPI) work in teams to set up clinics in health centres, schools and even in open fields on set immunisation days.

UNEPI can only succeed with regular and close liaison with parents, not only to make parents aware of the importance of getting their children vaccinated but also to ensure that appointments are kept. Ugandan Scouts play a very important part in the support role by raising awareness of the importance of vaccination and also by keeping records and ensuring that appointments are kept.

There is also an immunisation proficiency badge which they can gain.

Background information on Childhood Diseases

1. Diphtheria
Diphtheria usually occurs as an acute infection of the throat, but it can also affect the heart and brain of infants and young children.

2. Polio
Polio is a viral disease spread through contact with contaminated food, water and other objects. Its prevalence and severity is increased by inadequate sanitation. Polio can lead to paralysis and death. Every year about 500,000 children are affected by Polio.

3. Tuberculosis
This is a bacterial infection which mainly affects the lungs. It can occur at any age, even in infants, and is particularly prevalent in overcrowded, unsanitary housing. Once common in Europe, tuberculosis now mainly affects developing countries. Immunisation with the BCG vaccine is variable in its effectiveness, but remains a vital means of protection for children.

4. Tetanus
Tetanus killed nearly one million children in 1985. It is caused by a bacterial toxin and protection can only come through immunisation, which is 95% effective. Immunisation against tetanus is also given to women of child bearing age, which in turn will increase tetanus immunity in new born children.

5. Whooping Cough
This is a bacterial infection affecting the respiratory tract and which is characterised by spasmodic coughing. In 1985, whooping cough killed almost half a million children in developing countries.

6. Measles
In Britain measles is hardly a disease to be feared, yet in developing countries it killed two million children in 1985. It can be fatal when children are already weak from a poor diet.

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