The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners on Tuesday commenced emergency campaign to immunise 30,000 children against measles in Baidoa, one of the hardest-hit areas in southern Somalia.
Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF’s Representative in Somalia, said the children, many of them displaced by a searing drought, have never been immunised before.
He said that the children came from remote areas where health workers often could not reach because of decades-old conflict that had ravaged the impoverished country in the Horn of Africa.
“The only way to prevent sickness and death from measles is to make sure all children receive the vaccine,” Lauwerier said in a statement issued in Mogadishu.
“A child suffering from severe acute malnutrition is nine times more likely to die from a disease like measles than a healthy child. We have no time to lose,” he added.
Conducted in partnership with the ministry of health, World Health Organisation (WHO) and several non-governmental organizations, the campaign also includes a vitamin A supplement to boost immunity as well as de-worming tablets.
About 5,700 cases of suspected measles have so far this year been reported across the country, more than the total number of cases in 2016.
Measles, a viral respiratory infection that spreads through air and contact with infected mucus and saliva, thrives in congested, unsanitary displacement camps, which have mushroomed across the town and surrounding areas.
More than 100,000 people have come to Baidoa in search of assistance, including at least 70,000 in March alone.
“We know only too well from the 2011 famine that measles, combined with malnutrition and displacement, is an especially lethal combination for children,’’ Lauwerier said.
The Baidoa campaign is part of effort to vaccinate 110,000 displaced children below five years in hotspots across south-central Somalia, plus 250,000 children in Somaliland, against the contagious disease, by end of May.