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Child Immunization Campaign Under Way in Ghana

In Ghana, more than five million children are being targeted for vaccination against measles and other diseases. The mass immunization campaign is under way at 95,00 vaccination centers.

More than 38,000 health workers and volunteers have started administering vaccines against measles and other diseases to children five years and younger throughout Ghana.

During the next five days, six million children will receive oral doses of polio vaccine, and five million of them will be vaccinated against measles. Vitamin A also will be administered.

As part of the Integrated Child Health Campaign, the U.N. Children's Fund will distribute more than two million insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to children under two to prevent the spread of malaria, a major killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. K.O. Antwi-Adjei is the national program manger for the Expanded Program on Immunization. He says the campaign offers another opportunity to ensure that every child gets vaccinated against measles.

"This time we are offering the second opportunity for those who were missed, those who were below nine months at that time," he said, "and all those who have been born during the past four years, who would have gone through the routine, a single dose of the routine, which we consider, or scientifically has been proven not to be enough to reduce child death and child illness from measles drastically."

No child has died of measles in Ghana since 2002, and reported cases of the disease have also reduced from 12,000 in the same year, to below 500. The West African nation has also not recorded any case of polio, since a major outbreak in 2003.

Dr. Antwi-Adjei attributes the development to mass vaccination programs in 2004 and 2005.

"We found the campaign to work better for us, may be till our system is robust enough to offer a second opportunity through a second dose in the routine. So every four years we do a campaign for the measles, but for the polio it is also supplemental, its additional, because about 73 percent of those vaccinated again will get the necessary immunity, 27 percent will not develop the full immunity, but it is difficult to know by sight those without the immunity," he said.

The project, estimated at $18 million, has received substantial support from partners including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and the Japanese government. It costs about $3 to immunize each child.

Malaria and measles rank among the five leading killer diseases of children in sub-Saharan Africa. Measles mostly affects young children. Health experts say children usually do not die directly of the disease, but from its complications, which attack their immune systems.