At a glance: Occupied Palestinian Territory

Campaign fights infectious diseases in the wake of Gaza's long crisis

© UNICEF OPT/2009/El Baba
A student at the Sulayman Sultan school in Gaza City receives vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella.

By Chris Niles

EAST JERUSALEM, 25 February 2009 – A fragile peace is holding in Gaza since hostilities ended last month. But damage to vital infrastructure is widespread, and primary health care services have been reduced by 90 per cent.

A joint two-week campaign by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF began on 19 February, aiming to vaccinate 120,000 students against measles, mumps and rubella.

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Many of the 90,000 people displaced at the height of the crisis have been able to return home, but an unknown number of displaced families are still coping with limited services. Lack of regular health care continues to threaten young lives throughout Gaza, and poor sanitary conditions are contributing to an increase in diarrhoeal diseases.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health with campaigns to promote the importance of salt iodization, flour fortification and good hygiene practices, in addition to the immunization campaign.

Creating a healthier environment

UNICEF Gaza Head of Office Charles Strickland spoke about the campaign in Sulayman Sultan primary school, located in Gaza City.

© UNICEF OPT/2009/El Baba
Some 120,000 students in eighth and ninth grade will receive the MMR vaccine as part of a UNICEF-supported two-week immunization campaign.

"It's a pleasure for UNICEF to continue assisting the Ministry of Health ... in providing accessible health care – particularly, measles, mumps rubella vaccine – to young people here," he said. "It's been a long-standing relationship, dating back more than 10 years, and it's a relationship we see continuing far into the future. We're hoping to help create a more healthy environment for young people."

The campaign targets students in eighth and ninth grades. Besides receiving a dose of vitamin A, students are educated about how to avoid infectious disease.

Eighth grader Naser Alomrane was one of the children lining up for a jab. "I am sure this campaign will help to protect us from many diseases," he said.

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19 February 2008: UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the start of the immunization drive that is now under way in Gaza.
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