BUJUMBURA / NAIROBI, 12 June 2002 - Concerned that continued fighting will hinder vaccination campaigns aiming to reach over three million Burundian children, United Nations officials in Burundi called today on all parties to the conflict to observe 'Days of Tranquillity'.
The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator and the heads of the UNICEF and WHO country offices appealed to the warring parties to ensure safe passage of health workers during the next two rounds of National Immunization Days, scheduled for 17-28 June and 23-26 July 2002. They said that Burundian children continue to die from preventable diseases because the ongoing conflict keeps humanitarian assistance from those who need it most.
During the course of June’s 11-day campaign, approximately 3.3 million children between the ages of 9 months and 14 years are expected to be vaccinated against measles, 627,720 children between 0-59 months will be given the oral polio vaccine and 1.2 million children between 6-59 months will receive Vitamin A supplements. The July campaign will provide the second dose of polio vaccine to 627,720 children.
The Heads of UN Agencies in Burundi said that the observance of 'Days of Tranquillity' during last year's polio vaccination campaign brought the world closer to the eradication of polio. Burundi's western neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one of the few countries where the wild poliovirus has recently been found. They reiterated the fact that children living in the most insecure provinces have the lowest vaccination levels, making them the most vulnerable to death by preventable disease. The eight provinces targeted in this year's polio vaccination campaign include those prone to insecurity and those bordering the DRC.
They also called attention to the threat posed to children by measles, with over 400,000 African children dying from measles each year. World-wide, children who die from measles represent over half of deaths due to vaccine-preventable diseases. In this context, they highlighted the importance of the global measles strategy that aims to reduce the number of deaths due to measles by half by 2005. In Burundi, the decline in routine measles immunization coverage to below 50 per cent in 1999 led to a serious epidemic in 2000, with over 20,000 children contracting the disease with a high rate of death. They said that vaccination remains the easiest and most beneficial way to ensure that the rights to survival and health of all children are respected.
The UN Heads stated that only through the observance of 'Days of Tranquillity' could nation-wide vaccination campaigns be successful in Burundi. To ensure high coverage rates for measles, polio and Vitamin A supplements, this year's campaign, which targets three times the number of children as last year, will go door-to-door in urban areas and use over 4,000 community workers to help the vaccinators reach children in the most remote or insecure areas. A very broad range of national and international NGOs, religious leaders, teachers and community leaders also involved in mobilizing the public and organizing vaccination centres.
Since it was launched in 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has reduced polio cases by 99 per cent - from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to only 2,881 in 2000. The goal of this worldwide campaign, which is led by WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and UNICEF, is to certify the world polio-free by the end of 2005.
The Heads of UN Agencies in Burundi also said that they would like to take this opportunity to thank all donors who have contributed to the fulfillment of children's right to survival and health by supporting their immunization.
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For further information, please contact:
UNDP Burundi, +257-223-135
WHO Burundi, +257-231-702
UNICEF Burundi, +257-226-888