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Frontline Diary

30 July 2004: Keeping cholera out of Darfur and eastern Chad

© UNICEF Sudan/2004
Girl taking cholera medicine at Kalma displaced persons’ camp

UNICEF Communication Officer Sacha Westerbeek reports on the cholera immunization campaign underway in Darfur – a joint effort between the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the non-governmental organization, “Médecins du Monde”  This critical campaign is key to stopping the real threat of a cholera outbreak in the many camps for refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) across Darfur and eastern Chad.

DARFUR, 30 July 2004 – Have you ever heard of a massive cholera immunization campaign? They do exist; one is being done right now in Darfur. Immunization campaigns are labour-intensive and costly. There must be a real threat if one is to be done.

And there is: The threat of a cholera outbreak is realistic in many of the IDP camps and something needs to be done in order to prevent it.

The potential closure of the Sudanese borders, as a result of it being labelled a ‘cholera country’, would have implications not only for the economy – it would also mean that many people would die. And the victims would predominantly be the most vulnerable: women and children.

The cholera campaign is spearheaded and managed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The first phase of the campaign in Kalma took place from 21 to 25 July 2004.  (The second phase will take place next week.)

The State Ministry of Health (MoH) participates in this campaign by providing personnel to take  charge of the vaccination and a supervisor for each of the seven immunization points. The NGO “Médecins du Monde” provides logistical support and is in charge of the management of one of the seven immunization points in the camp. UNICEF provides technical and logistical support and cold boxes for preserving the vaccines, and also helps manage two of the immunization points.

Some of the immunization points are located at the UNICEF-supported ‘Children’s Space Centre’, or at schools. Hundreds of children look curiously at what is happening. Cars are driving on and off and health workers and community volunteers are mixing water with strange-looking substances (actually sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda).

In each of the seven sectors there is a team consisting of local and international staff, including two supervisors: One from the Ministry of Health and another from one of the international organizations.

The MoH supervisors trained the community volunteers on how to a properly administer the vaccine. These volunteers are in charge of the mobile “outreach” teams. The outreach teams are going from door-to-door, or in this case from shelter to shelter, to make sure that every person above the age of two has received their first dose of the cholera vaccine.

Nearly 43,000 people receive the first dose

The UN and NGO supervisors organize the logistical part of the campaign, including the preparation of vaccine carriers and the delivery of water and other supplies such as plastic cups and a bottle of ink to mark the vaccinated person’s finger.

I witnessed how some of the 42,878 men, women and children received their first dose of cholera vaccine. They are quite willing to take the medicine, as they have been told that this will prevent them from getting cholera – and who doesn’t want to be protected against this dreadful disease?
The children walk around proudly with their purple-painted finger. It reminds me a bit of election time when your fingernail is coloured to show that you have cast your vote.

It must be so strange to them: The whole fuss around drinking a glass of “water” and their finger being painted purple. They walk away in astonishment. What is this all about? Is this going to save me from death when my tummy is upset?



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