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Press Release

Uganda pushes forward with mass immunization campaign against measles

Part of a Global Strategy to Reduce Measles Deaths by Half

KAMPALA / NEW YORK / GENEVA, 13 November 2001 - As part of a global effort to reduce measles deaths, the United Nations Children's Fund said today that Uganda has launched a massive immunization campaign with the goal of reaching 1 million children under the age of five in hard-to-reach communities.

Measles is the most deadly of all vaccine-preventable diseases, accounting for an estimated 777,000 childhood deaths per year worldwide, with over half of these deaths occurring in Africa. Apart from death, children who are affected by measles may suffer from life-long disability including brain damage, blindness and deafness.

" It is unacceptable for children to die from measles when we have an effective, safe and inexpensive vaccine that can prevent children from the scourge of this disease," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "We have the know-how to tackle the problem, but the challenge we face in getting every child vaccinated is lack of adequate funds and political leadership."

According to the World Health Organization, this campaign will prevent over 15,000 childhood deaths in Uganda over the next three years. This phase of the initiative was launched in 10 of the 56 districts in the country, reaching children in the most difficult-to-reach areas, including displaced persons camps along the borders with Tanzania and Rwanda. Taking advantage of the campaign, children were also provided with Vitamin A capsules to boost their resistance against infections.

Launching the campaign, the Minister of Health, Hon Brigadier Jim Muhwezi said, "the Government is committed to improving health, development and growth of all children through cost-effective programmes like immunization."

The Uganda Red Cross, through its network of over 1300 volunteers, mobilized parents and caretakers to take children for immunization. This effort contributed significantly to the high turn out in the hardest to reach areas.

"We are pleased to work with the Ministry of Health, American Red Cross, UNICEF, and WHO to ensure that parents bring their children to receive this life-saving vaccine," said Alice Uwase, Acting Secretary General of the Uganda Red Cross.

The WHO Representative in Uganda, Dr. Oladapo Walker, reiterated the safety of vaccines used for childhood immunization in Uganda. "Let me assure you that the vaccines currently used by the Ministry of Health have no severe side effects."

UNICEF provided auto-disable syringes for the campaign, ensuring safe injections. The syringes are designed for one use only, eliminating the possibility of multiple uses and the spread of infections. Once used, the disabled syringes are collected in safety boxes and burned.

"Thanks to the expanding partnership for immunization in Uganda, the contribution of the various partners made the difference in the success of the mass measles campaign," said Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa, Officer in Charge at the UNICEF Kampala office.

Immunization is a key ingredient in helping children attain the highest attainable standard of health. UNICEF and WHO have jointly developed a strategy to reduce the number of measles deaths by half by 2005. This will be achieved through improved routine immunization and supplemental campaigns that give children a second opportunity to be immunized.

The key partners providing financial and technical support to this joint strategy include the United Nations Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Red Cross, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), WHO, and UNICEF.

This year these agencies will support mass measles campaigns in eight other African countries reaching 36 million children and preventing an estimated 170,000 measles deaths over three years. The selected countries are Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, Benin, Uganda and Kenya. Similar activities are also being supported in 14 countries in other parts of the world.

For further information please contact:

Ayazika Nakwagala
Information/Communication Officer
UNICEF, Kampala
Tel: 256-41-234591/2

Mohammad Jalloh
Communication Officer
UNICEF, New York
Tel: 212-326-7516