GENEVA, 7 April 2004 - More than 2,500 children in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge are being immunized against measles this week, following an outbreak of the killer disease.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, with USAID and UNHCR, is rushing in vaccines and a mobile team to immunize more than 1,700 Georgian children and 840 Chechen refugee children aged one to 15, by 9 April. The Gorge, where an estimated 6,000 refugees from the Russian Republic of Chechnya live with host families, has had a reputation for lawlessness – including kidnapping and gun-running – undermining routine immunization.
“We will find children who have fallen through the routine immunisation net,” says UNICEF Representative in Georgia, Ould Cheikh Ahmed Ismail. “And our experience tells us that children who miss out on immunization are probably missing out on other basic services, other basic rights.”
As well as providing 3,000 doses of measles vaccine, UNICEF and USAID are providing Auto-disable syringes that can only be used once to ensure that children receive safe injections, and leaflets in both Georgian and Russian on the importance of immunisation. The campaign will concentrate on five villages: Jokolo, Dumasturi, Sakobiano, Omalo and Duisi, and children will also receive Vitamin A capsules to reduce their vulnerability to measles, respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease.
The Pankisi Gorge, 150 km northeast of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, is just 3 km wide and 30 km long, and borders the Russian province of Chechnya. Most Chechen refugees live with host families from the local Kist population – ethnic Chechens who have populated the Pankisi Gorge for 300 years and hold Georgian citizenship.
Measles is the leading vaccine preventable killer of children, killing more than 600,000 children each year, and disabling many others. To combat the disease WHO and UNICEF are implementing a strategy for fighting measles which has been successful in reducing global measles deaths by 26 % between 1999 and 2002.
For further information:
Angela Hawke, Comm. Officer, UNICEF CEE/CIS and Baltics
Tel: 00 4122 909 5433. (email@example.com)