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Half a Million Children to be Vaccinated in the Democratic Republic of Congo
August 20, 2004
In August, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began the sixth phase of a preventative measles vaccination campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which will take the total number of immunizations to nearly 500,000. The objective of the new campaign is to cover around 55,000 children between the ages of six months and 15 years of age across the health zone of Yahuma, one of the remotest and most inaccessible areas in the country.
"Vaccination campaigns in most parts of the DRC are complicated due to the totally inadequate infrastructure. You come up against difficulties that you would rarely encounter elsewhere in the world," explains Maureen Billiet, MSF medical coordinator for the DRC. "For instance, we have to set up an unbroken 'cold-chain' to keep vaccines under a certain temperature. Doing so whilst travelling by motorbike for hundreds of kilometres across mud tracks is a daunting task."
The vaccination is being organized by a nurse and logistician working alongside teams comprised of MSF national staff and counterparts from the local Ministry of Health. The teams identify vaccination sites for villages, having first conducted awareness campaigns to ensure that people know why, when and where to come.
The current phase taking place in Yahuma comes as part of a campaign against measles that stretches back to March 2003 and has so far covered 431,285 children (97 percent of the estimated target population of 448,380). The most recently completed vaccination took place in Djolu, where during the months of April and May this year, 140 teams immunized nearly 100,000 children across an area of 17,357 square kilometers. Over the next 12 months, children in a further four zones will be immunized.
"Yet despite this and a number of other vaccination campaigns carried out across the country, many children are still not covered and thousands die in the DRC every year as a result of this easily preventable disease," concludes Billiet.
The vaccination is part of a wider program in the eastern province, which provides primary health care in five health zones. Other projects in the DRC range from tackling sleeping sickness to working with victims of violence.