Thousands of Darfur’s children in remote, conflict-affected areas to get measles vaccine
8 September 2004 | Khartoum/Geneva/New York - In a unique follow-up to a June campaign that reached over 2 million children in Darfur with vaccination against measles, a campaign was launched yesterday to reach another 150 000 children from 9 months to 15 years in remote areas of North Darfur controlled by the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM).
For children suffering from chronic or acute malnutrition, measles can result in a high number of deaths. The first phase of the campaign will run from now until 13 September, to build confidence among the different factions for continuation of the initiative.
Delicate negotiations between the UN and the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) in July and August concluded with an agreement that polio and measles vaccines would be provided to children in SLM-controlled areas.
Following the massive month-long campaign in June, death and illness rates amongst children due to measles have declined significantly. This additional campaign should immunize enough children to further reduce the likelihood of an outbreak for the coming three to four years. The campaign has been organized by the Ministry of Health, SLM, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
“We want to bring down the mortality rate for all children, not only those we have easy access to. Children pay the price for war when insecurity cuts them off from access to the most basic health services,” said UNICEF Representative in Sudan, JoAnna Van Gerpen. “Negotiations began in July with the SLM, who were very receptive to the idea but uncertain the logistics would work out.”
Representative of the WHO in Sudan, Dr Guido Sabatinelli, and UNICEF’s Van Gerpen participated in yesterday's start-up of the campaign in North Darfur. “The logistics are incredibly complex,” Sabatinelli said, “The children are spread across a huge territory, so we have to reach them by every means possible, including camels and donkeys.” The UN’s World Food Programme has supported the campaign by providing a helicopter to move vaccines, vaccine carriers, syringes and other supplies into the remote region.
Sabatinelli noted that this campaign may signal the opening of more areas in the vast Darfur region for health and other services to be provided to the scattered population.
The campaign has been provided with contributions from Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom, ECHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UNICEF Netherlands National Committee.
Measles campaigns usually take up to a year to organize because of the huge logistics involved. The vulnerability of children in Darfur called for urgent measures. The June and September campaigns in Darfur demonstrate the ability to carry out life-saving activities despite logistical, financial and political challenges when all parties put the interests of children first.