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UNICEF Launches Vaccination Campaign in CAR

Map of Central African Republic
The U.N. Children’s Fund says a campaign to vaccinate 550,000 children in the Central African Republic will begin Friday. UNICEF hopes to make up for lost time in the troubled country, which has endured a year of conflict and chaos.

According to UNICEF, the past nine months of lawlessness and insecurity have been disastrous for children in the Central African Republic. It says normal vaccination programs to protect children against killer diseases largely stopped. This triggered measles outbreaks almost everywhere in the country.

A nationwide measles vaccination campaign officially begins on Friday. But UNICEF and its partners have already begun immunizing children on a local level.

Spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said health care workers vaccinated 190,000 children in the capital, Bangui, and in other areas.

“It is our intent to -- not just our intent, but all of our partners on the ground to reach all of these children because measles, as you know, is incredibly contagious and it is lethal for children living particularly," Mercado explained. "I mean, the conditions that they are in, the displacement, lack of safe water, exposed to all the elements, just extraordinary insecurity. These are horrible and dangerous conditions for children.”

Fighting between government troops and the rebel coalition Seleka erupted in December. Former president Francois Bozize was forced to flee the country after the rebels seized Bangui in March. The transitional government has been unable to restore law and order.

The United Nations estimates around 400,000 people are displaced by fighting, including 170,000 who have been uprooted in the northwest of the country in recent weeks.

UNICEF spokeswoman Mercado said many are hiding in the bush out of fear. More than 60,000 other people fled to neighboring countries.

“UNICEF teams are providing emergency assistance to 5,500 families newly displaced by the recent violence in the northwest of the Central African Republic," Mercado said. "The majority of the displaced are women and children now living in deplorable conditions without access to safe water, nor shelter from the elements ... At least 250,000 children have lost out on an entire school year, forced marriages and sexual violence against girls is reportedly on the rise, and UNICEF estimates that there are 3,500 children associated with armed groups, up from around 2,000 prior to the conflict.”

According to UNICEF, its life-saving operations are seriously constrained because of lack of money. It has received only one-third of its $33 million CAR appeal for 2013.