UNICEF kicks off massive immunization campaign for children in Haiti
By: Chris Tidey, UNICEF Canada
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 2, 2010 – UNICEF, Haiti’s Ministry of Health and other partners today launched a massive immunization campaign for children in the areas affected by the January 12 earthquake. The campaign will immunize 500,000 children against measles, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
In the aftermath of emergencies, childhood diseases can run rampant. In Haiti, this risk is compounded by the fact that thousands of children have never been vaccinated against a number of potentially life-threatening diseases. Prior to the earthquake, for example, only 58 percent of children under 1 were being vaccinated against measles.
In the initial phase of the program, UNICEF and its partners will vaccinate 200,000 children, aged six months to seven years, who are living in the many temporary outdoor settlements that have sprung up in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas.
UNICEF’s Kent Page explains that children living in the settlements will be targeted first because the crowded living conditions allow for diseases like measles to spread quickly through a population. “Conditions in the settlements leave children very vulnerable to the spread of opportunistic diseases, so it is crucial that we vaccinate them now to prevent future outbreaks.”
In its second phase, the immunization campaign will expand to include vaccinations for all children living in the earthquake-affected areas. By the end of this phase, an estimated 500,000 children will have been vaccinated. Eventually, routine vaccinations will be provided throughout the rest of the country.
While visiting Le Stad Silvio Cator, the national football stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince, I witnessed thousands of children and families waiting in a cue on the field for vaccinations. Despite the searing midday sun, the mood of the people and medical staff remained upbeat as the lifesaving campaign got under way.
Later, I approached an exhausted-looking woman holding a screaming child who had just received his vaccination. She told me she had waited in line with her one-year-old son for hours and that she was now very tired. But she went on to say that a few hours of discomfort and frustration were worth it if it meant keeping her son healthy and safe.