MOGADISHU, Somalia - Two dozen babies sat on the laps of their mothers, who dressed in a rainbow of headscarves at the Medina Maternal Child Health Center. They are among Somalia's luckiest - the first to receive a new vaccine that protects against five dangerous diseases.
With more regions of Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, at peace for the first time in 20 years, health-care workers are expanding vaccination programs and can now access 40 percent of south-central Somalia, where the influence of hard-line Islamic insurgents is highest. Three years ago, health workers could access only 15 percent to 20 percent of that territory.
With one in five Somali children dying before his or her fifth birthday, the international community is rolling out the new five-in-one child vaccine they say will save thousands of lives.
The roll-out of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and an influenza known as Hib comes as health leaders on Thursday held the Global Vaccine Summit in the United Arab Emirates, where a six-year plan to eradicate polio was unveiled.
Violence and insecurity cost children dearly when it comes to preventable diseases. Polio remains endemic in only three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. All three experience heavy violence.
In Somalia, efforts by African Union forces - from Kenya, Uganda and Burundi, primarily - have beaten back the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab from areas it once controlled. As evidence of the improved security, Britain's foreign secretary traveled to Mogadishu on Thursday to open the British Embassy, the first time Britain has had an embassy in Somalia since 1991, when violence forced an embassy evacuation.
When al-Shabab is forced out, health officials rush in and vaccinate children, said Marthe Everard, the World Health Organization country director for Somalia.