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DPR Korea: UN agencies to vaccinate millions against deadly measles outbreak

DPR Korea: UN agencies to vaccinate millions against deadly measles outbreak

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) today began a campaign in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), to immunize 6 million children against measles, after the deadly disease broke out last November, affecting 3,500 people and killing two adults and two infants.

This first phase of the immunization campaign is being funded by UNICEF and will target children aged 6 months to 15 years. The second phase, planned to start on 10 April, will be funded jointly by UNICEF, WHO and other donors and will aim to reach around 10 million people, aged 16 to 45. In total over 16 million people will be vaccinated.

“Measles is highly contagious, but completely preventable,” said UNICEF’s representative in the DPRK Gopalan Balagopal. “For this campaign to be successful we must ensure that every child at risk of measles is properly vaccinated.” Spread through the air, measles is one of the most contagious diseases known.

The total cost of the mass immunization will be approximately $6.3 million with the Government covering all operating costs, estimated at an additional $2.5 million. A joint technical team consisting of four experts from UNICEF and WHO are currently in the DPRK to assist in the planning and implementation of the campaign.

Since the first measles cases surfaced last November, the disease has been diagnosed in 30 of the DPRK’s 204 counties, while the latest data indicates that 40 per cent of cases are among 11 to 19-year olds and nine per cent among children under the age of five, according to UNICEF and the WHO.

After the DPRK Ministry of Public Health declared a nationwide measles outbreak on 16 February, representatives from the public health ministry, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, UNICEF and WHO met in Pyongyang to plan their response.

As a result of scaled-up national immunization campaigns in Africa and Asia, worldwide measles deaths have fallen from an estimated 873,000 in 1999 to an estimated 345,000 in 2005 – a 60 per cent reduction globally. Despite this progress, measles still remains a leading cause of vaccine-preventable death among children.