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A mountain of a health effort

The theme for one of the largest public-health campaigns ever run in Nepal

GENEVA, September 23 2004: This week Nepal launched one of the largest public health campaigns ever undertaken in the country, with the aim of saving the lives of 2,500 children each year.

To achieve this aim, health workers must vaccinate 9.5 million children aged nine months to under 15 years against measles. The children make up about 40 per cent of the population, which means the campaign must reach two in every five Nepalis.

“Each year, measles attacks about 150,000 children in Nepal, of which some 5,000 will die”, observes Dr Suomi Sakai, Representative of UNICEF. “This simple and cheap vaccine could have saved them.”

The campaign, supported by UNICEF and WHO, will involve some 70,000 health workers, female community health volunteers and support teams and will be completed in six months.

It will sweep from the east to the farthest regions in the west, from the Terai plains through the hills to the high mountain villages. Supplies are being flown in by plane and helicopter and driven in by truck, car and motorbike. In remote villages under some of the world’s highest peaks, the supplies will arrive by yak train.

Vaccinating against measles is already part of the Ministry of Health’s routine immunization programme, but some 20 per cent of children have not received the vaccine. Sudden outbreaks in villages can be fatal.

Dr Klaus Wagner, Representative of WHO, explains that while the key aim of the national campaign is halve this death toll in 2005, “it will also prevent thousands of children from suffering permanent measles-related complications such as blindness, hearing impairments and developmental disabilities.”

A major public-awareness campaign is already saturating the airwaves reminding parents that this campaign covers older children also. Children and their families are receiving special invitation cards inviting them to the vaccination session in their villages.

In addition to the difficult terrain, a further challenge is the internal conflict which itself has claimed more than 10,000 lives since the start of the Maoist-declared ‘People’s War’ in 1996.

The United Nations has joined with Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission and similar organizations in a national child-rights campaign to urge all parties to the conflict:

1. To stop all forms of violent and coercive activities while the measles campaign is happening.
2. Not to interfere with or stop the health workers from traveling to villages for training and other preparation activities.
3. To support health workers and the volunteers in the villages and wards to move freely to conduct the immunization sessions.
4. To provide support to bring all the children from 9 months to under 15 years of age to the immunization posts for vaccination.
5. Not to conduct strikes or blockades during the time the vaccines and supplies are being transported to the districts.

While there have been some disruptions to the initial distribution of supplies, so far it has been possible to negotiate with the parties concerned.

“We are hoping that this campaign will demonstrate that people can put children first,” says Dr Sakai. “So many lives will be saved if this campaign succeeds.”

For further information, please contact:

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: (+41) 022 909 5716, dpersonnaz@unicef.org

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media, New York: +1 212 326 7426 gweiss@unicef.org


 

 

 

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