The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners are launching an emergency measles vaccination campaign that will aim to reach 125,000 children in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The five-day campaign, which begins tomorrow, will take place in the conflict-hit Bangui, the country’s capital, after eight children tested positive for the disease last month.
“Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children. Mass violence and armed conflict in CAR has left millions of people without access to basic health care, with hundreds of thousands of children at risk from a disease that can spread rapidly amongst deprived communities,” said UNICEF Representative Souleymane Diabate.
Fighting flared up in CAR in December 2012 when the Séléka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized Bangui in March forcing President François Bozizé to flee.
The fighting has led to a breakdown of basic services and increased the risk of disease outbreaks in Bangui and across the country. This, along with poor living conditions, and a historically low vaccination rate for measles of 62 per cent, means that the lives of large numbers of children are now at risk from the disease, UNICEF said in a news release.
The agency noted the campaign faces considerable challenges as secure humanitarian access to those in need remains difficult in CAR. In addition, many regions will be even harder to access as the rainy season sets in.
“Wherever access permits, UNICEF is on the ground working with partners to deliver life-saving interventions. Our immediate priorities are to provide emergency response in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and to protect children from violence, separation and recruitment into armed groups,” said Mr. Diabate.
In preparation for the campaign, 246,500 vaccines arrived in Bangui last Wednesday, including 100,000 vaccines purchased by funds donated by the airline easyJet. The vaccines will be used to respond to the measles outbreak in Bangui and to improve routine measles vaccination in high-risk regions of the country.
Since the 24 March 2013 coup, UNICEF has provided direct support for emergency health activities at the four main hospitals in Bangui and health centres throughout the country, including emergency health supplies for up to 141,000 people over three months.