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UNICEF supports emergency immunization drive to contain measles outbreak in Liberia

Zoeluapa, Liberia, 10 February 2011 – Zoeluapa has no electricity, no sanitation and no health clinic. And now the town of 4,000, located at the heart of north-eastern Liberia's impoverished Nimba County, is also battling a measles outbreak. By the end of January, 100 measles cases and five deaths from the highly infectious disease had been reported here.

VIDEO: 2 February 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a UNICEF-supported immunization campaign organized to contain a measles outbreak in north-eastern Liberia. Watch in RealPlayer

"There are 14 children in this household, and I need help to stop them from getting sick,” said Ms. Okko. “This vaccine is a blessing,” she added as she waited with dozens of other parents to get their children vaccinated.

Teams fan out
In a UNICEF-sponsored campaign, 80 teams of health workers have fanned out across Nimba County over the past week to immunize all children between six months and 16 years of age. The teams also have distributed vitamin A supplements, which help prevent deaths related to measles, as well as de-worming tablets for children under five.

In selected communities with large refugee populations, the campaign has included nutrition screening, counselling and referrals. Severely malnourished children are being referred to outpatient treatment centres, and moderately malnourished children to supplementary feeding programs. Women of child-bearing age have been vaccinated against tetanus.

‘This campaign is critical’
The emergency campaign is critical to stop a wider measles outbreak, because routine immunization coverage in the area is low – but also because of an influx of around 32,000 refugees who have fled political violence in Côte d’Ivoire since December. Many are children whose immunization status is unknown.

“What we do know is that the refugees are living in extremely crowded spaces, with up to 30 people in dwellings made for six, and that there’s a severe shortage of food in the border communities,” said UNICEF Immunization Officer Cefanee Kanneh-Kesselly. “Measles and malnutrition can kill children. That’s why this campaign is critical.”



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