|Measles vaccine equipment unloaded at Dissa, North Darfur|
DARFUR/NEW YORK, 8 September 2004 – UNICEF and its partners are immunizing thousands of children in North Darfur, in areas controlled by the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM). Many of these children are being vaccinated against measles for the first time in their lives.
Because of the continued threat of violence, North Darfur’s vulnerable populations have been cut off from basic health services for more than a year. Delicate negotiations between the UN and the SLM in July and August ended with an agreement that aid agencies could immunize children in SLM-controlled areas against polio and measles. While measles is a relatively mild condition in developed countries, it is a major killer in poorer regions, especially when levels of disease and chronic malnutrition are already high, as in Darfur.
The first phase of the 10-day measles campaign is a follow-up to an immunization drive in June which reached more than two million children in other parts of Darfur. The current operation aims to protect 150,000 children aged between 9 months and 15 years.
The start of the new round of vaccinations was delayed by two days because of renewed insecurity, but UNICEF Representative in Sudan Joanna Van Gerpen, who helped launch the drive, says she is confident that the campaign will make a major contribution to children’s survival. “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,” she said.
North Darfur’s remote areas pose a severe logistical challenge to aid agencies. Many roads are impassable and trucks are frequently abandoned on routes that are swamped by heavy rainfalls and mud. Villages are scattered over a very wide area.
Lacking any other means of communication, messengers have had to be sent through the area in advance, spreading information about the immunization drive by word of mouth.
UNICEF and its partners, the World Health Organization and Sudan’s Ministry of Health, are using a helicopter supplied by the World Food Programme to bring in vaccines. On hearing the helicopter’s approach, mothers bring their children to locations where they can be reached by teams of health workers. Sometimes further cross-country transportation is necessary.
“The logistics are incredibly complex,” said the WHO Representative in Sudan, Dr. Guido Sabatinelli. “The children are spread across a huge territory, so we have to reach them by every means possible, including camels and donkeys.”
The campaign is supported by contributions from the governments of Italy, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as well as from ECHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UNICEF Netherlands National Committee.
Press release: Thousands of Darfur’s children in remote, conflict-affected areas to get measles vaccine