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Frontline Diary

10 June 2004: Major measles immunization campaign in Darfur

© UNICEF/HQ04-0287/Nesbitt
UNICEF communication officer James Elder in Nyala, South Darfur

UNICEF’s communication officer James Elder, based in Nyala, South Darfur, has been watching the progress of a major immunization campaign to combat measles.

DARFUR, 10 June 2004—There is little to cheer about in Darfur right now. Fighting has displaced more than one million people, leaving them in horrific conditions, with malnutrition rapidly rising and death hovering over bulging camps for displaced people. Indeed, it is a sign of the terrible times for children in Darfur that a vaccination campaign brings so much excitement.

But excited they are. Amid hundreds of vivacious children, 12-year-old Awadia Alnoor stands in a long and eager queue. The mood of the children suggests that there is some sort of treat for those who wait. And in a way there is, though not your average childish treat. Awadia knows, as do all the children in the queue, that at the head of the line is a short, sharp needle—which gives lifetime protection from measles, one of Sudan’s biggest killers of children.

“My mother heard the announcement on the radio,” says Awadia, clouds of dust swirling around her face. “My little sister died of measles two years ago, and my mother was very anxious for us to be here today.”

And so here Awadia is. It is Day One of a three-state measles immunization campaign in Darfur, western Sudan. Fearing that a combination of malnutrition, massive numbers of displaced people, poor sanitation and the onset of the rainy season could lead to a deadly outbreak of measles, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Sudan’s Ministry of Health launched the campaign in South Darfur. From there the campaign will move to West Darfur and North Darfur. though more international support is desperately needed.

The aim is to vaccinate every single boy and girl between nine months and 15 years of age. Almost 2.3million children have to be reached, in a region which is roughly the size of France, and is far more difficult to navigate.

When Awadia Alnoor is finally ready for her shot, she doesn’t brace herself for pain or turn away from the vaccinator. Rather, she holds firm against a little boy who is intent on pushing in. “This is going to feel good,” she tells me. The grimace that follows says she may have been a little overconfident, but her cheerful spirit augurs well for the millions of Darfurian children who seek good health security. Although more international support is still desperately needed, the measles immunization campaign is a critical contribution to achieving that security.



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