Children hardest hit by massive humanitarian crisis
NEW YORK/GENEVA, 7 June 2004 – WHO and UNICEF said today that an ambitious plan to vaccinate millions of children against measles in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region began over the weekend.
The aid agencies say that they hope to reach 2.26 million throughout June, working in a region plagued by violence, population displacement, and the approach of seasonal rains that close large parts of western Sudan each year to vehicles.
“We have the potential to save up to 50,000 lives by preventing a measles outbreak here,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director for UNICEF. “Almost a quarter of the children are already showing signs of malnourishment, making the threat of the measles virus even greater.”
The month-long campaign is being led by the Sudanese Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, in coordination with several national and international organizations.
Thousands of vehicles have been drafted-in to transport heat-sensitive vaccines and mobile teams along dangerous roads throughout the inaccessible region’s three provinces.
“In addition to saving the lives of children, it is hoped that—by facilitating access to populations affected by the crisis and allowing for an assessment of their health situation—the campaign will provide a means to better respond to people’s urgent health needs,” said Dr Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Measles is caused by a highly infectious virus, and is a leading cause of child mortality globally. The threat to life is compounded when children are malnourished, and even more so during population displacement.
Vaccinators are also using the opportunity to provide life-saving vitamin A supplementation and to immunize at least 90% of children under five against poliomyelitis.
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For further information, please contact:
Paula Claycombe, UNICEF Khartoum, 249-12-309410
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, 212-326 7426
Dr Guido Sabatinelli, WHO Khartoum, 249 121 39 448,
Eugene Mahlehla, WHO Khartoum, 249 912 58 7512,
Fadéla Chaib, WHO Geneva, 41 79 475 5556