Immunization begins for millions of children in Darfur
7 June 2004 | New York/Geneva - The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF said today that an ambitious plan to vaccinate millions of children against measles in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region began over the weekend.
The aid agencies say that they hope to reach 2.26 million children throughout June, working in a region plagued by violence, population displacement, and the approach of seasonal rains that close large parts of western Sudan each year to vehicles.
“We have the potential to save up to 50 000 lives by preventing a measles outbreak here,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director for UNICEF. “Almost a quarter of the children are already showing signs of malnourishment, making the threat of the measles virus even greater.”
The month-long campaign is being led by the Sudanese Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF, in coordination with several national and international organizations.
Thousands of vehicles have been drafted-in to transport heat-sensitive vaccines and mobile teams along dangerous roads throughout the inaccessible region’s three provinces.
"In addition to saving the lives of children, we hope that—by facilitating access to populations affected by the crisis and allowing for an assessment of their health situation—the campaign will provide a means to better respond to people's urgent health needs,” said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Measles is caused by a highly infectious virus, and is a leading cause of child mortality globally. The threat to life is compounded when children are malnourished, and even more so during population displacement.
Vaccinators are also using the opportunity to provide life-saving vitamin A supplementation and to immunize at least 90% of children under five against poliomyelitis.
Funding for the campaign comes from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (£500 000), the US Government’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (US$ 1 million), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (US$ 500 000), the Government of Italy, and the UNICEF Netherlands National Committee (US$ 250 000).