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UNICEF rushes measles vaccines to Pankisi Gorge, Georgia


Geneva, 7 April 2004: More than 2,500 children in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge are being immunised against measles this week, following an outbreak of the killer disease.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, with USAID and UNHCR, is rushing in vaccines and a mobile team to immunise more than 1,700 Georgian children and 840 Chechen refugee children aged one to 15, by 9 April. The Gorge, where an estimated 6,000 refugees from the Russian Republic of Chechnya live with host families, has had a reputation for lawlessness – including kidnapping and gun-running – undermining routine immunisation.

 “We will find children who have fallen through the routine immunisation net,” says UNICEF Representative in Georgia, Ould Cheikh Ahmed Ismail. “And our experience tells us that children who miss out on immunisation are probably missing out on other basic services, other basic rights.”
As well as providing 3,000 doses of measles vaccine, UNICEF and USAID are providing Auto-destructive syringes to ensure the safety of every single vaccination shot, and leaflets in both Georgian and Russian on the importance of immunisation. The campaign will concentrate on five villages: Jokolo, Dumasturi, Sakobiano, Omalo and Duisi, and children will also receive Vitamin A capsules to reduce their vulnerability to measles, respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease. 

The Pankisi Gorge, 150 km northeast of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, is just 3 km wide and 30 km long, and borders the Russian province of Chechnya. Most Chechen refugees live with host families from the local Kist population – ethnic Chechens who have populated the Pankisi Gorge for 300 years and hold Georgian citizenship.

Measles is a contagious disease mainly affecting children under five. The infection can be complicated by diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia, or encephalitis. Children affected by measles complications may die, or survive with lifelong disabilities, including brain damage, blindness and deafness. While there was a 40% reduction in measles cases in the 1990s, there are still 30-40 million cases of measles worldwide each year, causing  777,000 deaths. Every one of these deaths could be prevented by measles vaccination.  

For further information:
Angela Hawke, Communication Officer, UNICEF CEE/CIS and Baltics.
Tel: 00 4122 909 5433

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