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DPR Korea: UN-backed vaccination drive protects more than 16 million people

DPR Korea: UN-backed vaccination drive protects more than 16 million people

In what is considered one of the fastest responses to a major outbreak of measles, 16 million children and adults in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have now been immunized against the disease, less than two months after the Government asked for assistance, the United Nations said today.

The massive nationwide immunization campaign was organized in two phases by DPRK’s Ministry of Public Health, with support and funding from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In the first phase, more than 6 million children, aged six months to 15 years, were vaccinated last month, some of them within just three days of the arrival of the vaccines in the capital of Pyongyang. The second phase from April 9 to 11 targeted more than 10 million children and adults aged from 16 to 45.

In addition to a shot of the measles vaccine, all participants were given a dose of vitamin A which is essential for immune system function and the survival, growth and development of children.

UNICEF was able to respond rapidly to the outbreak thanks to the quick mobilization of the network of health care providers in the country and due to the immediate support from the Central Emergency Relief Fund [CERF],” said Gopalan Balagopal, the agency’s Representative in DPRK, referring to a UN financing mechanism set up to address urgent situations.

“Our direct observation of the second phase confirmed that the immunization campaign was extremely well organized by Ministry of Public Health and the local authorities and as a result coverage was extremely high,” said Tej Walia, WHO Representative to DPRK.

The first measles cases in over a decade in DPRK appeared in November 2006. By this February, over 3,600 people in 30 of the country’s 204 counties had been affected, and two adults and two infants died.

Measles is spread by respiratory transmission and is highly contagious – up to 90 per cent of people without immunity sharing a house with an infected person will catch it.