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Guinea: supporting child health amid turmoil

UNICEF Guinea/2009/Harneis
© UNICEF Guinea/2009/Harneis
A distribution and immunization center in Conakry. During the campaign, between 20-26 November, more than 1.5 million children received free of charge a measles vaccine, vitamin A supplementation, deworming tablets and a mosquito net.

Conakry, Guinea, December 9, 2009 – In Aicha’s arms, a young baby is lying listless and puny. Mohamed, her 9-month son, has been admitted three days ago at the pediatric service of Donka Hospital in Conakry.

These last fews days, the hospitalization rooms are particularly over crowded due to a measles outbreak. "When I saw the spots on his body, I immediately recognized measles" states Doctor Diop, who is looking after Mohamed since his arrival.

"Today, Mohamed‘s health is slightly better" says Aicha in a hollow voice, while staring at her child.

"But over these last four days, he had a persistent cough. He did not eat and he had no bowel movements."

Signs of the times
The sociopolitical unrest that the country is facing since 2006 has weakened basic social services, with a devastating impact on children. 

"School enrolment is decreasing, and we can note a resurgence of deadly childhood diseases" deplores UNICEF Representative in Guinea, Julien Harneis.

Between the second quarter of this year and the end of November, over 1000 measles cases, including five deaths, have been reported all over the country.

There are also effects on the nutrition status of children with serious consequences on their survival.

Studies show that malnutrition is associated with more than 30 percent of deaths among children under five years. "Malnutrition is often associated with killer childhood diseases," insists Dr. Diop

With no more than 5.4 kg, the little Mohamed Fofana looks like he’s just three months of age. "He is suffering from malnutrition as well" notes the doctor, after a thorough exam.

Essential interventions against preventable diseases
To respond to the measles outbreak and prevent other killing childhood diseases, UNICEF and, the Ministry of Health, as well as other public and private entities have teamed up to organize unprecedented campaigns.

Between 20 and 26 November, over 1.5 million children under five years received free of charge a measles vaccine, vitamin A supplementation, deworming tablets and a mosquito net impregnated with insecticide.

"This type of high impact intervention has proved its effectiveness to improve child health", emphasizes M. Harneis.

"By improving children’s immunity against measles, for instance, we contribute to make a real difference on the reduction of child mortality."

"Vitamin A gives a boost to the immune system and preserve sight. Deworming is essential for effective nutrition and the bed net is the best way to prevent malaria", he added.

To make this measles campaign happen, UNICEF has procured vaccines for a total amount of $905,000, and provided 1.3 million long lasting insecticide impregnated nets, with funding from Canada, Italy, the United States, and UNITAID.

By Michèle Akan Badarou



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