GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 31 January 2013 – More than 1 million children from war-torn North Kivu province were vaccinated against measles last week in a joint immunization campaign by the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and its partner Merlin in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
Preliminary results show that 96% of the targeted 1,180,000 million children aged between 6 months and 15 years of age were vaccinated in the seven health zones of North Kivu province during the five-day vaccination campaign.
“So far children from North Kivu have survived fighting, displacement and hunger. Now they are at risk of dying from measles, an entirely preventable disease,” said Barbara Bentein, UNICEF Representative in the DRC. “An outbreak of measles can spread like a bushfire, and displaced children are especially vulnerable. We must ensure that all children aged between 6 months and 15 years are vaccinated.”
Last year alone, measles outbreaks were reported in all 11 provinces of the DR Congo resulting in over 73,000 cases of measles. Ultimately over 2,000 children died from the disease in 2012. The number of measles cases reported in just the eastern province of North Kivu, repeatedly devastated by fighting and displacement in 2012, was six times higher than the previous year.
The insecurity that prevailed in North Kivu threatened progress made through previous routine immunization campaigns. Many children who fled the violence missed the earlier campaigns, while many health centers were looted and the cold chain needed for vaccine preservation was placed under severe strain. Health workers themselves faced real difficulties accessing insecure areas.
“Measles kills, especially amidst insecurity. But this can and must be avoided,” said Dr. Félix Kabange Numbi, Minister of Public Health in DR Congo. “We know that vaccinations can save children’s lives. Together with UN agencies and partners, the Ministry of Health has the capacity, knowledge and willingness to run these life-saving campaigns. Our vaccination teams go to the field and vaccinate all children in conflict-affected areas in North Kivu.”
To prevent measles outbreaks among host communities, displaced persons and returnees, the Government of DR Congo, together with UNICEF and its partners are working around the clock to reach all children at risk with the mass immunization campaign against measles, with support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). Last December, for example, 30,000 displaced children were immunized against measles in internally displaced persons sites on the Goma-Sake axis.
In line with the DRC’s interagency 2013 Humanitarian Action Plan, UNICEF is appealing for US$134 million to meet the humanitarian needs of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013.
UNICEF works in more than 190 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.
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Cornelia Walther, UNICEF Kinshasa, Mobile +243 991 00 63 07, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ndiaga Seck, UNICEF Goma, Mobile +243 818 305 933, Email: email@example.com