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UNICEF Launches Anti-Measles Campaign in Liberia - 2003-08-31

The U.N. Children's Fund and its partners are conducting an emergency mass immunization measles campaign in the Liberian counties of Gbarpolu and Lofa, which are under rebel control.

The campaign is underway in the two counties that are home to thousands of displaced people, the majority of them women and children. During the next week, aid workers hope to reach 42,000 children from six months to 15 years of age.

Three mobile teams will canvass the counties and give the children their measles shots. At the same time, the children will receive doses of Vitamin A. This will help them build up resistance against diseases such as measles, respiratory infections and diarrhea.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz calls the health situation in this part of Liberia dramatic. "Last week, there has been an assessment and … this assessment mission concluded that the health situation there is actually appalling," he said. "And there was also a major outbreak of measles. Measles in Africa is a main killer for children. So it was seen as very urgent. UNICEF did not have any problem with stocks because our stocks were not looted during the hostilities. So we could distribute the vaccine pretty fast."

Aid agencies have been cut off from this region for three years because of the fighting. Mr. Personnaz says U.N. missions that went there last week found a situation of sheer desperation. He says health care was practically non-existent, food was scarce and sanitation conditions were very bad.

He says this immunization campaign in a rebel-held area is a significant step in trying to reach all Liberian children outside the capital Monrovia.

"This immunization campaign will be a test basically for all kinds of relief activities, not only for UNICEF, but also for all the other U.N. agencies and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] working on the ground," added Mr. Personnaz. "It will also be a test for the local and provincial authorities including the LURD, including the rebel groups, to make sure that they can control their area."

Although a ceasefire is in place, Mr. Personnaz says aid workers will have to tread carefully because sporadic fighting throughout the country still puts them at risk.