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Central African Republic

Emergency vaccination campaign protects children from measles in conflict-hit Bangui, Central African Republic

UNICEF reports on an emergency measles vaccination campaign carried out in the Central African Republic 22–26 May 2013.


By Dede Nambeanre and Linda Tom

An emergency vaccination campaign from 22–26 May is protecting children from measles in conflict-hit Bangui, Central African Republic.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, 24 May 2013 – It’s the first day of a measles vaccination campaign, and 3-year-old Teves is among the first to be vaccinated at the Ouango Health Centre in Bangui. His mother, Aubierge Goneme, says she learned about the campaign from radio broadcasts and from organizers who passed through their neighbourhood with megaphones and pamphlets.

“I know the vaccine will prevent Teves from getting sick and protect him from measles,” she says. After receiving the measles vaccine, Teves is given vitamin A and deworming medication, as part of the emergency health intervention following a measles outbreak in Bangui.

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2013/Nambeanre
Aubierge Goneme has brought her 3-year-old child Teves to the Ouango Health Centre in Bangui, Central African Republic, for a measles vaccination. Eight cases of the disease were confirmed in April 2013.

Coup disrupts medical services

By 11 a.m., more than 150 children have been vaccinated at the centre – a victory for an emergency vaccination campaign that faces considerable challenges. “After the coup, health centres such as ours ceased to function as before,” explains Eric Grengbo, a social mobilizer working for the campaign. “Staff who lived far away could not get to work because it was not safe, and the one who could come to work needed to get home quickly. We have also seen fewer patients coming to the centre,” he adds.

Two months after being rocked by a wave of violence and a coup d’etat, residents are trying to return to normal life. Some businesses and private schools have started to re-open. While there have been fewer security incidents in the past month, order has yet to be restored in the capital. Residents report hearing shots ring out at night, and attacks on civilians, crime, theft and arbitrary arrests continue to be reported. 

Measles outbreak amidst unrest

Despite these and other challenges, parents are bringing their children to get vaccinated at over 100 sites identified by communities and set up specifically for the campaign, over 60 of which are temporary vaccination sites set up at health posts, churches, mosques and schools. “People do not want to hear guns anymore,” says Mr. Grengbo. “Communities are supporting the campaign because we involved them in the campaign – you can see the evidence in all the people who are here today.”

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2013/Nambeanre
Eric Grengbo (centre), a social mobilizer working for the vaccination campaign, looks on as a child receives the measles vaccine. The goal is to reach 125,000 children during the campaign.

Since December 2012, violence and insecurity in the Central African Republic have resulted in the internal displacement of more than 206,000 people; close to 49,000 others have fled the country. At least 1.2 million people have been cut off from basic services, increasing the risk of disease outbreaks. The conflict, along with poor living conditions and an historically low vaccination rate for measles (62 per cent), has put a large number of children at risk of catching the disease.

In response to the confirmation of eight cases of measles in April, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, the Central African Red Cross and NGO partners Merlin, IMC, ACF and COOPI to reach 125,000 children during the 22–26 May campaign. An additional 100,000 vaccines have been purchased by funds donated by the airline easyJet to improve routine measles vaccination in high-risk regions of the country. UNICEF and partners are working to support emergency vaccination in this and other key parts of the country.

Reaching those people most in need

“Measles is highly contagious and is one of the leading causes of death among young children because it lowers their resistance to other diseases,” says UNICEF Representative Souleymane Diabate. “Children with malnutrition and no access to healthcare are particularly vulnerable. The good news is that measles deaths can be easily prevented with a highly effective and safe vaccine.”

As access to those in need improves, UNICEF continues to distribute live-saving supplies and is providing emergency health, nutrition, protection and water and sanitation support to the affected population in partnership with NGOs present on the ground, as access permits.

Since the 24 March 2013 coup, UNICEF has provided direct support for emergency health activities at the four main hospitals in Bangui and health centres throughout the country, including emergency health supplies for up to 141,000 people for over three months.



UNICEF Photography: Immunization

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