At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Nationwide push in Lao PDR to eliminate measles

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© UNICEF LaoPDR/2007/Holmes
Mothers and children – including Khaming Padungsee and her 11-month-old son Tanva, at left – wait for immunization at the measles vaccination centre in the temple of Houay Namien village, Lao PDR.

By Simon Ingram

HOUAY NAMIEN, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 16 November 2007 – Mid-morning on a Tuesday isn’t normally a time that you expect to see much activity in a Buddhist temple. But a recent Tuesday was different, and the brightly coloured temple in Houay Namien was thronged with mothers and young children.

Khaming Padungsee  who had come with her 11-month-old son Tanva – knew what to expect from advertisements, and from word put out by the village headman concerning one of the most important immunization campaigns Laos has seen.

After a short wait in line, Tanva’s name was noted in a register before he received a capsule of vitamin A drops and a spoonful of crushed de-worming tablet mixed with water.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF LaoPDR/2007/Holmes
A girl takes a de-worming tablet at the measles vaccination centre in the temple of Houay Namien village, Lao PDR. Vitamin A supplements have also been integrated into the national measles campaign.

Protection and prevention

But protection against measles was the key benefit being provided here. Worldwide, measles kills more children than any other preventable disease, and Laos suffers regular outbreaks, including two this year that killed at least 10 children.

“The vaccine is very important for the lives of my children,” said Ms. Padungsee. “It’s good to protect them against measles.”

By mid-morning, nearly half the 560 children registered in the village had been vaccinated, a sign that things were going smoothly.

Targeting children under five

“We informed the villagers about the campaign through the village chief and through our health volunteers,” said District Health Supervisor Taikhan Thanonsar. “The older children are being vaccinated at school, so here in the temple our main target is the children under five.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF LaoPDR/2007/Holmes
A girl winces as she receives a measles injection at Don Na Souk primary school in a suburb of Vientiane.

Banners and publicity have played their part in generating support for the campaign. But even more crucial has been strong, high-level political commitment from the government.

At the ceremonial launch in the capital, Vientiane – and in front of an audience that included the country’s president – Standing Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavat linked the measles campaign to broader development goals. “This programme indicates the concern of the government and society for the health of children of all ethnic groups, who will carry out the tasks of national protection and development in the future,” he said.

Reaching the MDGs

UNICEF Representative in Lao PDR Laila Ismail-Khan said at the launch ceremony that the government’s commitment to eliminate measles by 2012 was cost-effective and consistent with targets set by the global Millennium Development Goals.

“This is a campaign which will bring many benefits,” said Ms. Ismail-Khan, “not least the strengthening of the routine immunization programme, making it a fine example of the ‘plus’ that immunization can bring to children’s health.”

With the campaign now well under way, there are encouraging signs that the target of immunizing 95 per cent of more than 2.1 million children between nine months and 15 years of age can be met.

In the north-west, the remote province of Luang Namtha reported that by day four of the campaign, nearly 70 per cent of target age children had been immunized. Officials in the more densely populated province of Savannakhet in the south reported coverage of nearly 53 per cent.


 

 

Video

16 November 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the massive measles immunization campaign in Lao PDR.
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