UNICEF Provides “Critical Lifeline” to Protect Malnourished Children From Killer Diseases in the Horn of Africa

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Vaccination campaigns for children underway in Somalia and Kenya

This week UNICEF, the Kenya Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a vaccination campaign for children living in communities around the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. The campaign will target more than 200,000 children under five, with measles and polio vaccines, together with Vitamin A and de-worming tablets. It is part of a push to ensure all children in drought-affected areas are protected from polio and vaccinated against killer diseases like measles, which can be deadly for malnourished children.

Another vaccination campaign began last week in southern Somalia, where vaccination coverage is just 26 percent, one of the lowest in the world. Starting last Thursday and completed today, 40,000 children under five and 46,000 women were targeted in eight districts of Mogadishu, including in overcrowded camps for the displaced.

“Children in the Horn of Africa are already among the world’s most disadvantaged. They are living on the brink and becoming more vulnerable by the day,” said President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF Caryl Stern. “There can be no understating the urgency to act, and to act now. The sooner we do, the more lives we can save.”

In the Gedo region of Somalia, preparations are on-going for a measles, Vitamin A, de-worming and tetanus toxoid campaign in six districts, targeting 55,000 children under five and 72,580 women of child-bearing age. Provided access is ensured, UNICEF, in partnership with WHO, aims to expand the campaign in the regions of Galgaduud, greater Benadir, Bay, Bakool, Hiran, Lower Shabelle and the Jubas in the coming month. The plan is to expand coverage of measles for all children up to 15 years of age to reach a total of 2.5 million children.

In southern and central Somalia, measles cases have been confirmed in Mogadishu. Cases of acute watery diarrhea have also been confirmed in Mogadishu, Afgoye, Baidoa, and Lower Shabelle regions. With so many women and children on the move, crossing borders and becoming internally displaced, the challenge is to reach all children, including the older children, to prevent new outbreaks of disease. In many parts of the worst affected areas, partners on the ground are already stretched trying to cope with the large numbers of people they need to help with these types of services.

“This is a child survival crisis,” said Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF Regional Director for eastern and southern Africa. “Children don’t die just because they don’t have enough food. In various stages of malnutrition, they are more prone to sickness and disease. As big a challenge as the rates of malnutrition pose, the danger for children extends even further.”

The campaign in northern Kenya, which starts today, will continue until Friday and target children in Garissa, Fafi, Lagdera and Wajir South. The plan is to extend it to refugees in the Dadaab camps in early August. UNICEF has procured measles and polio vaccines to support the campaign along with vitamin and de-worming tablets. UNICEF is also supporting social and community mobilization to ensure people know about the campaign and understand why vaccination is important.

Measles, a highly contagious disease, poses a serious threat, as it can spread rapidly in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, wiping out those that are weak from malnutrition. Measles reduces children’s resistance to illness and makes them more likely to die when they are malnourished and suffering from other diseases. Vitamin A is given in emergencies to increase the likelihood of surviving the health risks associated with poor living conditions. A child who is vitamin A deficient faces a 25 percent higher risk of dying from measles, malaria or diarrhea.

UNICEF estimates it will need $300 million over the next six months for a massive scale up of operations to reach children in the Horn of Africa’s drought-affected areas with emergency and preventative assistance. The focus is on providing integrated interventions that addresses various aspects of a child’s survival and development, including nutrition, health services and vaccination.

For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution to relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, please contact the U.S. Fund for UNICEF:
Website: http://www.unicefusa.org/donate/horn
Toll free: 1-800-4UNICEF (1-800-486-4233)
Text: Text “FOOD” to UNICEF (864233) to donate $10
Mail: 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from 13 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009. But still, 22,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit http://www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, (m) 646.428.5010, smasur(at)unicefusa(dot)org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop(at)unicefusa(dot)org


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Marci Greenberg
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
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Susannah Masur
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
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