At a glance: Peru

Hepatitis B threatens an entire culture with extinction

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Peru/2005/Sengo Perez
A Candoshi girl carrying her sister.

LIMA, 13 June 2005 – UNICEF, working with the Peruvian Ministry of Health, has launched a vaccination campaign to stop a Hepatitis B epidemic in the Upper Amazon. The disease, if not controlled, threatens to wipe out two indigenous groups, the Candoshis and the Shapras. Both groups live in relative isolation from the outside world, maintaining a rich and traditional culture.

At the time the vaccination campaign was initiated in 2003, the Hepatitis B epidemic had already infiltrated all 49 communities and affected over 3,000 people in Candoshi and Shapra. One of the best ways to stop the outbreak is to vaccinate newborn babies during the first 24 hours of their life, and to supply subsequent doses to children before the age of six months.

In order to reach the remote region where these two ethnic groups live, UNICEF staff must travel at least two-and-a-half days from Lima to the town of San Lorenzo, and then they must make an additional journey to reach the Candoshis and Shapras. The campaign is highly complex because nearly all the births take place at home in geographically isolated communities.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Peru/2005/Sengo Perez
A Candoshi baby being vaccinated against Hepatitis B.

“We trained a Candoshiner, one of the locals,” explains UNICEF Representative in Peru, Andres Franco. “He has proven to be instrumental to the campaign. He knows the people, the language, and he is convinced that this is the way to save his people from extinction. We have explained to him in numbers if we don’t act now, in 10 years, everyone in his community will be gone.”

UNICEF is also providing a crucial cold chain network by supplying seven vaccination posts with solar refrigerators and nine motor boats to transport vaccines and health-care workers. Through anthropological studies, UNICEF has found that there is a great willingness on the part of these traditional communities to accept vaccinations. They are willing to introduce change to their habits and customs in order to avoid contagion with the deadly disease.

Since the beginning of the campaign, 245 of the 298 newborn – almost 82 per cent – were vaccinated within 24 hours of birth. Another 83 health workers were trained to report pregnancies to health facilities and to inform the communities about Hepatitis B prevention.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Peru/2005/Sengo Perez
Health workers must travel by boat to bring vaccines to indigenous children in the remote areas of the Amazon.

In June 2005, two groundbreaking donations totally nearly $11.7 million were given to UNICEF from the Finnish government. The donations aim to boost the living standards of some of the world’s poorest and most excluded children – including the Candoshis and Shapras.

Working with the Ministry of Health, the ongoing campaign aims to enable a new generation of the Candoshis and Shapras to be free of Hepatitis B. “The Finnish contribution is really going to give us an arm to reach out to more indigenous children in the Amazon,” remarked Mr. Franco. “They are the largest grants ever given to UNICEF in the region, and will benefit an estimated 100,000 children.”


 

 

Video

13 June 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Bibiana Meltzer reports on UNICEF’s Hepatitis B immunization campaign to protect indigenous children of Candoshi and Shapra in the Upper Amazon.

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13 June 2005:
Interview with UNICEF Representative in Peru, Andres Franco, on the Hepatitis B immunization campaign.

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