The U.N. Children's Fund says it plans to vaccinate 1.4 million children in Liberia against measles by the end of this year. UNICEF says the children, who are between six months and 15 years old, account for nearly half of Liberia's total population.
UNICEF says this will be the first government-supported health campaign since Liberia disintegrated into civil war 15 years ago. It notes that the Liberian Ministry of Health and the government were not involved in a first measles campaign the agency carried out, in November and December.
UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz says the decision by the government to participate in the new measles campaign sends a powerful signal that the authorities are ready to take charge of their citizens' welfare.
"It is very important because it shows the clear commitment of the new government to set up a basic health system which it never did before," said Mr. Personnaz. "Measles immunization is actually a symbol of the commitments of this new government to achieve something basic, something essential for the children."
Measles is a major killer of children in Africa. UNICEF estimates the campaign will save the lives of about 10,000 children in Liberia during the next three years.
Mr. Personnaz says aid agencies currently have access to about 45 percent of the country. But with the help of U.N. peacekeeping forces he says he expects aid workers to be able to reach children in 90 percent of the country by the end of the year. He says the remaining 10 percent is covered by jungle and is sparsely populated.
"We have to work with the government," added Mr. Personnaz. "But obviously, we also have to work with all the different rebel groups. How do we do that? We just try to negotiate with them, what we call, some days of tranquility or to try to get some access to the areas. We need to set up some spots on the radios to make sure that all local health are aware of this campaign."
Mr. Personnaz says health workers are taking advantage of the measles vaccination campaign to provide vitamin A to young children. He says vitamin A helps children build up their resistance against measles, respiratory tract infection, and diarrhea.