UNICEF and Ministry of Public Health mobilize volunteers to prevent re-emergence of polio after routine immunization disrupted by conflictBEIRUT/LEBANON, October 30 2006 – This week, more than 320,000 young children throughout Lebanon will receive the first round of polio vaccinations in a two-phase national immunization campaign. Beginning today and finishing on November 4, approximately 2,000 volunteers, trained by UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health, will go door-to-door to all homes and public health centres to ensure that all children under five years of age are immunized against this devastating disease. The second round of vaccinations will take place in December.
Although Lebanon was declared polio-free in 2002, and Lebanese children are normally vaccinated through primary-care services, the summer conflict severely disrupted routine health services, including vaccination, as mass numbers of children and their families were displaced from their homes.
During the conflict, UNICEF supported an urgent immunization campaign in camps and host homes for internally-displaced persons, vaccinating 8,000 children between 0-five years of age against polio and 21,000 children between 0-15 years of age against measles. However, dangerous and unstable conditions made it impossible to reach many children in the southern regions most affected by bombing, and the constant movement of children between locations made tracking extremely difficult.
"The Lebanese government is committed to ensuring that children across the country are protected from the threat of polio after the disruption to health services during the conflict," says His Excellency Dr. Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh, Minister of Public Health. This is a very important public health initiative, and our trained volunteer teams in collaboration with Ministry of Public Health staff at the central, regional and local levels, will be visiting every area of the country to make it as easy as possible for parents to have their children vaccinated. This comes as a firm belief that the Ministry of Public Health should focus its efforts on preventive measures in order to build a healthy young generation. This endeavour has been made possible thanks to the fruitful collaboration between the Ministry of Public Health, the international organizations, the scientific societies and the civil society at large”.
“To keep Lebanon polio-free and protect children’s health, it is critical to immunize every single child,” says Roberto Laurenti, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon. “The recent conflict severely disrupted routine vaccinations and public health systems. Since people from polio-affected countries in the region regularly move in and out of Lebanon, children are now vulnerable to infection. We need to act quickly and on a massive scale to eliminate that risk.”
UNICEF has provided one million doses of the orally-administered polio vaccine, as well as cold-chain equipment (including 1,000 temperature-controlled vaccine carriers) to preserve the vaccine as it is stored and transported throughout Lebanon. This quantity is more than enough to supply both the first and second rounds of the vaccination campaign.
In addition to supplies, UNICEF is providing technical expertise, including supporting the Ministry of Public Health in conducting a “training of trainers” programme in Beirut. Funded by the World Health Organization (WHO), these sessions briefed health professionals from all health districts in the country on how to execute the campaign. These professionals in turn returned to their respective districts to train a total of 2,000 local volunteers mobilized by the Lebanese Army, the YMCA and other partner NGOs. It will take these volunteers six days to reach all individual homes and public health centres to administer the oral polio vaccinations and track which children have been covered.
The door-to-door approach of the immunization campaign is designed to reach all children in Lebanon, whether they are living in their own villages or elsewhere in the aftermath of the conflict. The campaign will also provide polio vaccination in refugee communities, including children from the occupied Palestinian territories.
To remind parents of the importance of polio immunization and ensure that their children under five receive their free vaccinations during the campaign, UNICEF has conducted a series of national awareness activities, including TV and radio ads, posters and flyers.
In December, the next series of National Immunization Days will deliver a second round of polio vaccinations to ensure full protection to all children under five years of age and will also provide measles immunization to children in high-risk regions. The December phase will also include vitamin A supplementation – a recognized strategy for boosting children’s overall resistance to infections.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, is the largest public health initiative the world has ever known. Since 1988, some two billion children around the world have been immunized against polio thanks to the unprecedented cooperation of more than 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, backed by an international investment of US$3 billion.
Note to media: Video and photo footage will be available at www.unicef.org.
For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For further information, please contact:
Soha Bsat Boustani, Communications Director, UNICEF
Mobile: +961 3 236 167
Nicole Ireland, Communications Officer, UNICEF
Mobile: +961 70 908 368
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