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UNICEF Plans Measles Campaign In North Korea


The U.N. children's fund - UNICEF - is planning a mass measles vaccination campaign in North Korea to try to prevent a measles epidemic from spreading throughout the country. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz tells VOA the children's agency heard rumors in November that outbreaks of measles were occurring in North Korea. But he says the North Korean ministry of health confirmed this only two days ago.

He says this gives UNICEF little time to prevent the outbreak from spreading because it will take UNICEF at least 10 days to get the vaccines, the syringes and other necessary materials in place.

Personnaz says the measles immunization campaign cannot go ahead until all these elements are together.

"So, we are a bit worried because we, in a way, think it might be a little too late for many children and that the North Korean authorities would have been a little bit wiser to tell us a little bit more in advance," he said. "It is not the matter of the money, but it is more the matter of logistics which is involved with regard to an immunization campaign."

As it is, Personnaz says UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners will have to raise $1.7 million to pay for the campaign. He says North Korea has requested five million doses of measles vaccine.

Measles is a leading cause of death among young children. WHO estimates 345,000 people, most of them children, died from measles in 2005.

Personnaz says people between the ages of 10 and 45 are most at risk. Very young children, he says, are not as vulnerable because UNICEF has been immunizing infants in North Korea against measles for the last 12 years.

But he says the quicker the campaign gets under way the better.

"The disease can have some … dramatic impact on the children, especially if they are already malnourished and especially at this time of the year where winter is more or less on its way out, but then the bodies and the people are … in a weak state," he said.

Personnaz says aid workers will give the children Vitamin A at the same time they administer the measles vaccine. He says Vitamin A is very important because it helps to boost the immune system so children can cope better with the onset of disease.