A measles vaccination campaign targeting all children in Nimba county, which hosts over 30,000 refugees from the Ivory Coast, begins tomorrow for seven days. As of the end of January, five Liberian children between one and five years old had died of measles, two cases had been confirmed by WHO, and just over 100 suspected cases had been reported.
“In a context where there are large numbers of people living in congested spaces, and there’s a severe shortage of food, safe water, sanitation and health care, it is critical that we act quickly to stop this outbreak”, UNICEF Liberia Representative Isabel Crowley said.
“The fact that there are measles cases underlines that basic immunization rates are low, and that these communities may not have been fully reached and protected by health services. This is dangerous for these communities and beyond,“ Crowley said.
The campaign is intended to reach all children between six months and 15 years old from both refugee and host communities. The campaign is led by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, with support from UNICEF and WHO. UNICEF is providing the vaccines and operational costs.
The vaccination campaign will also integrate Vitamin A supplementation, which can reduce deaths associated with measles by up to 50 percent, as well as de-worming for children below five years old. Women of child-bearing age will be vaccinated against tetanus.
In selected communities with large refugee populations, the campaign will also include nutrition screening, counseling and referrals. Severely malnourished children will be referred to outpatient treatment centers, and moderately malnourished children will be referred to supplementary feeding programmes.
Since early December, over 30,000 refugees, 85 per cent of them children and women, have crossed over into Liberia fleeing the political violence in the Ivory Coast. The vast majority of asylum-seekers are in Nimba county, which is one of the poorest regions in this West African nation, one of the poorest countries in the world. In some communities, refugees far outnumber locals, and local resources have been stretched to the limit.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that hits children hardest. Symptoms include high fever and rash, but among malnourished children it can cause serious complications including blindness, severe diarrhea, and pneumonia. Measles can be prevented by immunization.
The campaign will be conducted through 80 Ministry of Health and Social Welfare teams composed of six members each, working through 54 health facilities throughout Nimba County.