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Over a half-million children get polio vaccination in Northeast Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, 21 October 2003 - Over half a million children in Northeast Sri Lanka were immunized against polio last Saturday during the UNICEF-supported Subnational Immunization Day. The day marked the final round of this year's polio vaccinations, the first of which took place six weeks ago and achieved 96 per cent coverage. Parents took children under the age of ten to their nearest temporary vaccination center where they received the oral polio vaccine. Those who missed the vaccinations will be followed up with house to house visits from health workers to ensure full immunization coverage against the crippling childhood disease.

Since 1995 the Government of Sri Lanka, with support from UNICEF, WHO, Rotary and NGOs, has implemented National Immunization Days to eradicate polio from the country. During times of active conflict, the Government forces and the LTTE set a practical example of "children as zones of peace," by holding 'days of tranquility,' cease-fire days in which children across the country were immunized. 

Although there have been no reported cases of polio since 1993, as a consequence of the protracted conflict in the northeastern districts of Sri Lanka, the immunization coverage is comparatively lower and the surveillance system weaker than in other parts of the country. During this year’s polio immunization days, over 600,000 children under ten years of age living in the districts of Ampara, Kalmunai, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Killinochchi, and Jaffna were administered a dose of Oral Polio Vaccine.

Dr. Aberra Bekele, Head of the Early Childhood Section at UNICEF, said "Even in the most remote districts or difficult to reach areas, families were mobilized to take part. Via posters and public service announcements in the media, mothers and fathers knew where and when to go to have their child immunized: in allocated schools, hospitals, health centers and community centers across the region. Primary Health Inspectors and midwives administered hundreds of thousands of vaccines, whilst dedicated volunteers helped to register children and mark their medical records. It’s an inspiring example of coordination, planning and achievement and is a tribute to the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka, LTTE and the entire partner NGOs involved."

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For more information please contact

Sarah Epstein, Communications Officer,
0777 416 742 or 1 2555270 ext 250 or sepstein@unicef.org





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