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[Sudan] Two Million Darfur Children Get ...

2004.07.09
Two Million Darfur Children Get Measles Shot But hundreds of thousands more wait for "Days of Tranquillity" until they can be reached too Khartoum/Geneva/New York, 9 July 2004 - UNICEF and WHO said today that 2 million children in Darfur have now been vaccinated against measles, but that hundreds of thousands more cannot be reached because of prevailing insecurity. According to UNICEF and WHO officials, over 2,000 immunization teams, mostly from the Ministry of Health, pressed to the fringes of the most insecure zones in Darfur during the massive month-long campaign. "We went as far as we could given the insecurity," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "But we estimate that up to 500,000 children still can’t be reached. The Government of Sudan now supports the declaration of ’Days of Tranquillity’ so that we can give this life-saving shot to children who missed out." UNICEF and WHO have frequently crossed fighting lines in other conflict-ridden countries during Days of Tranquillity negotiated between warring parties. “Of special concern is western Darfur, where half the children remain beyond our reach,” noted Bellamy. “We’re ready to carry out campaigns in these areas, but we need the Sudanese government and all armed groups to guarantee the security of vaccination teams.” In the weeks prior to the campaign, reports of measles cases among children were widespread with large numbers of deaths among children residing in camps of internally displaced persons. The Ministry of Health responded to these outbreaks by establishing immunization sites in the camps but transmission continued in neighboring communities. Immunization teams reported to the WHO and UNICEF that they were besieged by crowds of mothers seeking shots for their children. Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Lee Jong-wook, says that during emergencies measles “spreads like wildfire” when people concentrate in camps, feeding centres, and around water sources, killing as many as a fifth of children, mostly the very young. UNICEF and WHO said that in most accessible areas, between 95% and 100% of children were reached, but that continued insecurity made swathes of the region too perilous for the immunization teams to enter. Measles campaigns for countries usually take up to a year to organize, because of the huge logistics involved, and because immunization is only effective with almost complete coverage. Refugee camps in neighbouring Chad were recently targeted to reach people fleeing from Sudan, as well as local Chadian villagers. More than half a million children under five years old were also given vitamin A capsules at the time they were vaccinated against measles. The measles campaign was undertaken by the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF with the participation of health-related NGOs operating in Darfur. Vaccination against measles will continue as part of the Ministry of Health’s regular immunization programme. WHO’s Dr Lee concluded, "Guaranteeing Days of Tranquillity is a must. We hope to continue the immunization effort throughout the entire Darfur region but this can only be done if access to all children is secured." * * *
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