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Q&A on the DPRK measles outbreak campaign


More than 16 million children and adults rapidly vaccinated against measles following major outbreak in DPRK

© UNICEF Dprk/2007/Majeed
Secondary school children brought to Su Hung Ri Hospital in Hamju County,South Hamgyong on the first day of the campaign to receive the measles vaccine.

Joint press release by UNICEF, WHO and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

PYONGYANG, 20 April 2007 -- In one of the fastest responses to a major outbreak of measles, 16 million children and adults in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have now been immunized against the disease, less than two months after the government asked for assistance.

The massive nationwide immunization campaign was organised in two phases by DPRK’s Ministry of Public Health, with support and funding from UNICEF, WHO and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In the first phase, more than six million children, aged six months to 15 years, were vaccinated  between 14 and 18 March, some of them within just three days of the arrival of the vaccines in the capital of Pyongyang. The second phase from April 9 to 11 targeted more than 10 million children and adults aged from 16 to 45.

© UNICEF Dprk/2007/Mungun
A baby gets a dose of Vitamin A after measles vaccination at Majon Ri Clinic,Sinuju City,North Pyongan Province

In addition to a shot of the measles vaccine, all participants were given a dose of Vitamin A which was supplied by the International Federation and is essential for immune system function and the survival, growth and development of children.

A joint technical mission from UNICEF and WHO also visited the country during the first phase of the campaign and have advised the government on taking steps to prevent future outbreaks of measles. . Teams from WHO and UNICEF were deployed to different parts of the country to observe the campaign in both the phases.

A large mobilization of local Red Cross volunteers also supported the efforts to ensure the success of the campaign.

The massive campaign cost the international agencies about $6 million USD. The first phase was funded by UNICEF and the second phase was jointly funded by UNICEF, WHO and the International Federation. The government of DPRK covered all operating costs. Internal transportation, training, social mobilization, and staff cost are estimated to have cost an additional US$ 2.5 million.

After a request for help from the government on 15 February, 6.2 million doses of vaccines and syringes, procured through UNICEF’s Supply Division in Copenhagen, reached Pyongyang in the first week of March. Within three days, the first children were being vaccinated.

“The large quantity of measles vaccines and other supplies that were received in connection with the recent outbreak of the disease in some parts of the country helped prevent further spread of the measles and immunize against future outbreak” said Mr. Choe Su Hon Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Korea.

“UNICEF was able to respond rapidly to the outbreak thanks to the quick mobilization of the network of health care providers in the country and due to the immediate support from the Central Emergency Relief Fund,” said Gopalan Balagopal, UNICEF’s Representative in DPRK.

“WHO was able to rapidly mobilize a team of 3 experts from its SEAR Office in order to assist the Government of DPRK in epidemiologic and laboratory investigation of the measles outbreak,” said Tej Walia, the WHO Representative to DPRK. “Our direct observation of the second phase confirmed that the immunization campaign was extremely well organized by MOPH and the local authorities and as a result coverage was extremely high.”

"This was a remarkable example of good cooperation between different organizations,” said Jaap Timmer, the International Federation’s Head of Delegation in DPRK. “The DPRK Red Cross mobilized more than 15,000 of its volunteers to visit families and explain the importance and benefits of the vaccination campaign. The local Red Cross volunteers, who have been trained in first aid and community health, reinforced the vaccination teams to enable them to finish the two phases in such a short period of time.”

The first measles cases in over a decade in DPRK appeared in November 2006. By February 2007 over 3,600 people in 30 of the DPRK’s 204 counties had been affected, including two adults and two infants, who died.

Government data indicates that 40 per cent of the measles cases occurred in 11 to 19-year-olds and nine per cent among children under the age of five. The first cases were initially believed to be rubella, as measles had not been reported in DPRK since 1992, and many of the country’s health workers were unfamiliar with the symptoms.
Measles is spread through respiration and is highly contagious – 90 per cent of people without immunity sharing a house with an infected person will catch it. The incubation period usually lasts for 4 to 12 days, during which there are no symptoms.
For more information please see Q and A or contact:

Gopalan Balagopal,Representative, Tel: +850 2 3817 150 or
Michael Le Pechoux , Deputy Representative, Tel: + 850 2 3817 150 or
E -mail:

Dr. Tej Walia, WHO Representative to DPRK, Tel: + 850 2 3817 920 or

International Federation

Helena Laatio, Communications Delegate for East Asia in Beijing Tel: +86 13 911 710 635

Anna Nelson, Communications Officer for Asia and the Pacific in Geneva Tel: +41 79 724 2046



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