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Côte d' Ivoire measles campaign at 1 million children mark

UNICEF urgently seeks US$6.9 million for 2004 nationwide campaign

ABIDJAN/GENEVA, 10 February 2004 - The crisis that split Ivory Coast in two in September 2002 has devastated the health care system in the north and west, and disrupted routine vaccinations throughout the country, leading to higher mortality rates among children from treatable diseases, including measles.  In response to this threat to children’s lives, UNICEF and its partners are currently completing the third emergency measles vaccination campaign of the past year for children aged 6 months to 14 years.  The number of children vaccinated against measles through UNICEF-supported emergency campaigns in Ivory Coast has now reached one million.

“It was imperative that we vaccinate the largest number of children possible before the peak measles season in March,” said UNICEF Resident Representative Georgette Aithnard. “Over the past year, we have used all financial, material, technical and human resources available to support and coordinate three campaigns, which covered large portions of both Government-controlled and Forces Nouvelles-controlled zones, and we hope to do even more in the year to come.”

The ‘one-millionth’ child was vaccinated in the far northern district of Tengrela, close to the border with Mali, where health care structures have been particularly hard hit by the crisis and health care workers are scarce. A UNICEF-coordinated convoy of 35 minibuses carrying health workers, three refrigeration trucks and an additional medical supply truck arrived last week in the area to begin this difficult leg of the campaign.

“Due to the lack of health administration and personnel in the area as a result of the conflict, the logistical challenges were, to be honest, quite daunting,” said UNICEF health officer Dr. Shesoko Alfani.  “But word spread like wildfire that we were coming, and parents showed up from every nook and cranny of the district to vaccinate their children,” he continued, “and thanks to this incredible community turnout, we think we have managed to vaccinate over 90% of the children believed to still be in the district of Tengrela – we didn’t dream that such a high rate would be achievable.”

This third campaign, still ongoing, covers five remote northern districts of the country, in Forces Nouvelles-controlled territory – Odienne, Boundiali, Tengrela, Korhogo and Ferkessedougou.  In the coming weeks, an additional 350,000 children are targeted for vaccination against the highly contagious and deadly disease as the campaign moves on to the districts of Korhogo and Ferkessedougou.  The Forces Nouvelles (New Forces), an alliance of three ex-rebel movements that now participate in the government of national reconciliation, are still armed and control the northern half of the country.

UNICEF is seeking US$6.9 million – less than US$1 per child - for a nationwide measles vaccination campaign to be launched in December of 2004.  The nationwide campaign targets 7,460,334 children.  Until a nationwide campaign can be undertaken, however, emergency funds will continue to be used as they become available to save every child possible through smaller-scale, comprehensive measles vaccination campaigns in the northeast and in the west over the coming months.

In conjuction with the measles vaccinations, some 450,000 children from 06 to 59 months of age have to date been provided with Vitamin A supplements.  Micronutrient deficiencies have been heightened as a result of the crisis due to poor diets and lack of access to sufficient food.  Children suffering from vitamin A deficiency have weakened immune systems leaving them more likely to fall ill, and more likely to die from common illnesses such as diarrhea, malaria, and acute respiratory infections. Vitamin A deficiency can also lead to blindness, stunted growth and infertility. 

Major partners in the three campaigns included the Ministry of Health (EPI- Enlarged Programme of Immunization, NIPH – National Institute of Public Hygiene, NNP – National Nutrition Programme), WHO, WFP, Ivorian Red Cross, and Helen Keller International.  Important funding was received from ECHO (EU), Belgian Cooperation, Sweden, CIDA (Canada), and OFDA (USA).

For more information, please contact:
Jeff Brez, Communication Officer, Abidjan
Tel: +225-2020-8176 / cell: +225-05-853118 / e-mail: jabrez@unicef.org




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