For the first time since the start of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, thousands of health workers are fanning out across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in nationwide immunization campaigns with an aim to protect three million children against preventable but potentially deadly diseases such as measles and polio.
“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.”
As the campaigns are taking place at the start of World Immunization Week 2015, 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 hand washing, according to a press release.
More than 26,000 cases of Ebola and over 10,000 deaths have been reported across the three countries where the outbreak has weakened already fragile health systems while disrupting routine health interventions.
In Sierra Leone, where mass immunization campaigns were suspended from October 2014 because of the Ebola outbreak, a ‘mother and child health week’ begins today with the provision of Vitamin A, de-worming pills and screening for malnutrition, according to UNICEF.
“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,” UNICEF said.
In May, an immunization drive for 1.5 million children under five will cover measles and polio, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the world with a maternal mortality ratio of 1,165 per 100,000 live births and under 5 mortality at 156 per 1,000 live births, according to WHO.
In Guinea, UNICEF reported that a nationwide measles campaign got under way in Guinea on April 18 to vaccinate 1.3 million children aged six months to nine years.
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, it said.
UNICEF said it 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.