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Central African Republic

Campaign addresses three leading causes of child mortality in CAR

UNICEF Image: Central African Republic, vaccination, health, campaign
© UNICEF/2008/Holtz
A girl waits to be immunized at a health centre in Bossangoa, Central African Republic.

By Dorn Townsend

BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic, 6 January 2009 – An extensive multi-media campaign is being carried out in the Central African Republic to generate excitement and awareness about UNICEF’s latest vaccination campaign – one of the largest of its kind in the history of this country.

"UN agencies and non-governmental organizations run campaigns all the time, but this is a big one and we want it to stand out," said UNICEF CAR representative Mahimbo Mdoe. "What we're saying is – here are three preventable diseases killing a lot of children and this week we're going to visit every corner of the country to give children and their families tools to prevent these deaths."

The 10-day campaign will address three of the leading causes of preventable death among children in CAR: malaria, measles and diarrhoea caused by improper hygiene. Approximately 800,000 children under the age of five will be vaccinated for measles as well as given free bars of soap to help prevent diarrhoea, along with a treated mosquito net to eliminate malaria – the leading cause of death among children in this country.

A year of preparation

Nearly a year has been spent preparing for the campaign, including pre-positioning equipment throughout the country, training over 1,750 health volunteers and identifying 885 sites where vaccinations will occur.

“Getting all the materials in place is a huge challenge but so is convincing families that it’s important to get their children vaccinated and get them sleeping under mosquito nets and using soap regularly,” said the Head of the Health Section for UNICEF CAR, Dr. Eli Josoa Ramamonjisoa.

UNICEF Image: Central African Republic, vaccination, health, campaign
© UNICEF/2008/Holtz
A health worker prepares vaccine at an immunization site in Bossangoa.

The awareness campaign includes informative posters, radio spots and news articles. Private cell phone companies also pitched in by sending their customers informational text messages. Additionally, a rock concert featured public health messages turned into catchy songs.

“A week before the campaign started, it was hard to ignore. Trucks with microphones and stereos on the back drove through the neighborhood telling people to take their children to the Health Centre today,” said Benedicte Kafobeobona, 20, while she stood outside the clinic in Bossangoa with her two children.

‘This will change our lives’

The awareness campaign appears to be paying off. Throughout the country, hospitals and health centres have reported long lines of mothers and children waiting for vaccinations.

"One of my children died from malaria and my other children get sick all the time because they are bitten all night long by mosquitoes," said Ruth Mwero, 25, a mother of five children in Bossangoa. "This mosquito net and the vaccinations will change our lives."

At the hospital in Bossangoa, other mothers echoed that sentiment.

"I didn't work in the field today and walked two hours with three of my children so they could get these things," said Marilla Mahamat, 31. "This will prevent them from getting sick."

Challenges in reaching children

Travelling in CAR is often extremely difficult. While every city and significant village in the country has a site where volunteers administer shots and distribute soap and the mosquito nets, reaching farms and hamlets deep in the bush is a challenge.

"If we want to reach all the children, we're going to have to find a way to reach those living in the places in-between those tiny villages." said UNICEF CAR's manager for emergencies, Dr. Juan Camillo Medina. At this point, a goal of reaching 80 per cent of children has been set.

“A lot of my neighbor's children die when they are very young. I hope this campaign helps end that,” said Ms. Kafobeobona.



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