For the first time since the start of the Ebola outbreak, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are conducting major nationwide immunization campaigns to protect millions of children against preventable but potentially deadly diseases.
As World Immunization Week is marked from April 24 to 30, the three countries most affected by Ebola, aim to vaccinate more than three million children against diseases such as measles and polio in UNICEF-supported campaigns that involve the provision of vaccines and the training and deployment of thousands of immunization teams.
“While the effort to get to zero cases of Ebola continues, it’s critical that basic health services are restored,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Stepping up immunization programs that were disrupted by the epidemic will save lives and prevent a reversal of the health gains that were made in these countries before the outbreak.”
In Sierra Leone, a mother and child health week begins today with the provision of Vitamin A, deworming pills and screening for malnutrition. More than 10,000 vaccinators and distributors will be going door-to-door across the country to deliver the interventions, which also include updates for those aged 0-23 months who have missed routine vaccinations. In May, an immunization drive for 1.5 million children under five will cover measles and polio.
A nationwide measles campaign got under way in Guinea on April 18 to vaccinate 1.3 million children aged six months to nine years. Some 100,000 children were vaccinated during an initial response to a measles outbreak in February. UNICEF also conducted community sensitization campaigns to inform the public of the safety of the vaccinations.
In Liberia, a campaign to provide measles and polio vaccinations to over 700,000 children under five years old is planned for May 8-14. UNICEF has supplied over 750,000 doses of measles vaccines, and, together with its partners is training more than 3,000 vaccinators and county health officials. It is also working with the Government of Liberia on nationwide social mobilization efforts to raise awareness of the campaign.
As the immunization campaigns are taking place while the threat of Ebola remains, vaccinators are following strict protocols including the use of protective wear, such as gloves and aprons, as well as regular handwashing. More than 26,000 cases of Ebola and 10,000 deaths have been reported across the three countries where the outbreak has weakened already fragile health systems while disrupting routine health interventions.