afrol News, 13 June - Concerned that continued armed clashes in Burundi could hinder vaccination campaigns targeting over 3 million children in the country, UN officials have called on all parties to the conflict to observe 'Days of Tranquillity' so that the immunisation campaign can go forward.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Burundi, along with the heads of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), on Wednesday appealed to the warring sides to ensure the safe passage of health workers during the next two rounds of National Immunisation Days, scheduled for 17-28 June and 23-26 July.
In making their plea through a joint statement, the officials said the country's children "continue to die from preventable diseases because the ongoing conflict keeps humanitarian assistance from those who need it most." Children living in the most insecure provinces have the lowest vaccination levels, making them the most vulnerable to death by preventable disease.
During the course of June's 11-day campaign, approximately 3.3 million children between the ages of 9 months and 14 years are expected to be vaccinated against measles, 627,720 children between 0-59 months will be given the oral polio vaccine and 1.2 million children between 6-59 months will receive Vitamin A supplements. The July campaign will provide the second dose of polio vaccine to 627,720 children, WHO and UNICEF inform.
To ensure high coverage rates, this year's campaign, which targets three times the number of children as last year, will go door-to-door in urban centres and use over 4,000 community workers to help the vaccinators reach children in the most remote and insecure areas.
The Heads of UN Agencies in Burundi said that the observance of 'Days of Tranquillity' during last year's polio vaccination campaign "brought the world closer to the eradication of polio."
Burundi's western neighbour, Congo Kinshasa (DRC), is one of the few countries where the so-called "wild poliovirus" has recently been found. The UN spokesmen reiterated "the fact that children living in the most insecure provinces have the lowest vaccination levels, making them the most vulnerable to death by preventable disease." The eight provinces targeted in this year's polio vaccination campaign in Burundi include those prone to insecurity and those bordering Congo Kinshasa.
The UN representatives also called attention to the threat posed to children by measles, with over 400,000 African children dying from measles each year. In Burundi, the decline in routine measles immunisation coverage to below 50 per cent in 1999 led to a serious epidemic in 2000, with over 20,000 children contracting the disease with a high rate of death. "Vaccination remains the easiest and most beneficial way to ensure that the rights to survival and health of all children are respected," the spokesmen stated.
The UN Heads further emphasised that "only through the observance of 'Days of Tranquillity' could nation-wide vaccination campaigns be successful in Burundi."
Since it was launched in 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has reduced polio cases by 99 per cent - from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to only 2,881 in 2000. The goal of this worldwide campaign, which is led by WHO, Rotary International, the US Centres for Disease Control and UNICEF, is to certify the world polio-free by the end of 2005.