By Shane Powell
VIENTIANE PROVINCE, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 8 December 2011 – The sound of a gong from a nearby temple echoes in the distance as morning approaches.
The sky is still dark, but it’s not too early for Ms. Kongkeo, a nurse in the district hospital, who has been awake for hours. She and her team are preparing for another day of immunizations targeting children between ages 9 months and 19 years in the surrounding areas.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Rachel O’Brien reports on a nation-wide vaccination campaign against measles and rubella in Lao PDR that aims to reach more than 3 million children between 9 and 19 years of age. Watch in RealPlayer|
The immunizations are part of a a wide-scale effort to eradicate two diseases – measles and rubella – that continue to harm and kill children across Lao PDR.
“We know how important this is to our country,” Ms. Kongkeo said. “If we can prevent everyone we’re targeting from contracting the rubella virus, we have a huge opportunity to protect children from being born with disabilities.”
Combination vaccine introduced
This is the first time the country has introduced a combination vaccine that will target rubella. Pregnant women infected with the rubella virus have a 90% chance of passing the virus to their child. The result can be death or life-long health problems involving the heart, ears and eyes.
Measles also continues to plague the country. It is one of the leading causes of death among children around the world and can be spread by person-to-person contact, meaning high vaccination coverage is essential to eradication.
The campaign aims to immunize more than 3 million young people around the country.
|© UNICEF Lao PDR/2011|
|A health worker prepares to immunize children in Vang Vieng Province, Lao PDR, during a nation-wide vaccination campaign supported by UNICEF, WHO and partners.|
“We’re trying to use every means possible to identify and encourage our target group to be vaccinated,” Ms. Kongkeo says.
Health workers are also distributing vitamin A to children between 6 and 59 months old and de-worming tablets to children aged 12 to 59 months.
Achieving ‘remarkable’ coverage
UNICEF, working alongside the World Health Organization and other partners, is a key supporter of the campaign, which is part of a broader government effort to improve the health and survival of women and children in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
“This will result in a major reduction of children who are born with disabilities,” said Dr. Edward Hoekstra, UNICEF Senior Health Specialist, during a recent visit to monitor progress in the country. “This campaign has been possible because of the strong commitment of the government of Laos,” he added.
And the collective efforts are proving successful. “The health care workers and the community at large have made it all possible,” Dr. Hoekstra said. “The first results show over 90% coverage, and that has been remarkable.”