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UNICEF launches emergency vaccination campaign against hepatitis B in Peru

© UNICEF Peru/Andres Franco

GENEVA, September 2003 - UNICEF has launched an emergency vaccination campaign against hepatitis B for two ethnic groups in a remote region of the Peruvian Amazon, whose existence could be threatened by a prolonged outbreak of the disease.

Local leaders warned that both the Candoshis and the Sharpas, located in the High Amazon, Department of Loreto, could face extinction within 10 to 12 years if preventive action, especially among children, is not taken to staunch an outbreak of hepatitis B.

The situation is dramatic. In 2001, 145 cases of hepatitis B were reported among the Candoshi ethnic group alone, and in 2002, approximately 40 deaths were registered. The population of both groups in this region totals about 3,000.

The UNICEF campaign will seek to vaccinate 150 newborns of both groups every year against hepatitis B and to complete vaccination before they turn one year old. The challenge is to achieve vaccination within 24 hours after birth to avoid contagion directly from the mothers, in what are very difficult geographical conditions.

There are approximately 2,500 Candoshi people living in the Pastaza River and 500 Shapra living in the Morona River. About 500 of the total are boys and girls under the age of 5, all of whom are at extremely high risk of acquiring hepatitis B. The area is so enormous that its population density is roughly 2.4 inhabitants per square km. Travel from almost any of the 124 communities in both rivers to the closest health center may take up to four days.

UNICEF’s campaign strategy includes local and community work and political mobilization with authorities in Lima. At the local level, UNICEF is contributing to the installment of an efficient cold chain; the transportation of health workers and volunteer community health promoters along the rivers where members of the ethic groups live; the registration of all pregnant mothers in order to reach all newborns; and the capacity-building of local leaders and community volunteers to enable them to monitor vaccinations and promote prevention practices.

On19 September, UNICEF provided 7 water boats to enable health promoters to undertake mobilization activities up and down the rivers; five 50-litre solar refrigerators, and other supplies needed for an efficient cold chain in the jungle.

UNICEF has also begun an ethnographic study of the community to better understand local customs and to carefully incorporate them into its  intervention strategies.

For more information contact:
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media
Geneva +41 22-909 5716

Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media
New York (+1 212) 326-7452




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