UNICEF urges Angola to spend on health at launch of measles campaign

UNICEF urges Angola to spend on health at launch of measles campaign

As Angola launched a nationwide measles vaccination campaign today to immunize 7 million children within a month, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) urged the government to support the nascent peace process with increased funds for health and education, and the international community to join in helping the war-ruined country.

"We're asking the government to continue putting money where the children are," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in Luanda, the Angolan capital, at the launching of the biggest health campaign in the country's history. "Give Angola a stable future by protecting her children. This will be the real peace dividend."

Spearheaded by Angola's Ministry of Health and employing 33,000 workers, the campaign has received key financial, logistical and training support from UNICEF, with technical and supply support from the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), in a country where one child in 10 dies from measles compared with one in 1,000 in developed countries.

Since the signing of a peace accord last year that ended 27-years of civil war in which an estimated 5,000 schools and 60 per cent of all hospitals were destroyed, UNICEF has consistently asked the government to re-direct resources that were once earmarked for war towards basic social services.

"What we're seeing today are promising first steps," Ms. Bellamy said. "And this country has the potential to lead Africa by example. But one million children remain out of school. The entire health system must be strengthened and conditions established across Angola for effective delivery of routine vaccinations. If this is done, then we will look back in five years time, when children are in school and child mortality rates falling, and 2003 will be recognized as the year Angolan children were put first on the agenda."

Calling for international support, she noted that against sizeable odds, Angolans were striving to strengthen the entire health and education system, restore public services to remote areas, and fight the causes of child mortality. "Much of this must come from within, but I trust the international community will continue to support Angola in these goals of reconstruction," she added. "For now is the moment when strong partnerships will be rewarded by results."

More than 10,000 children die each year from measles in Angola, among the 10 countries with the worst immunization coverage - well below the average in sub-Saharan Africa - estimated in 2001 at 46 per cent. Angola has one of the world's worst under-five mortality rates, with one in four children dying before their fifth birthday.