The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in partnership with the Central African Republic (CAR) Ministry of Health, aimed to vaccinate more than 213,000 children countrywide against nine common but deadly diseases. This unprecedented vaccination campaign was launched in 2015 and ran through 2017, protecting children under five who missed out on routine vaccinations as decades of conflict, displacement, and instability have left many health facilities broken and communities without access to basic medical care.
“This preventive vaccination campaign was the biggest ever undertaken by MSF in CAR and one of the first aimed at protecting under five-year-olds against so many diseases,” said MSF vaccination advisor Dr. Anne-Marie Pegg. The more than one million doses of vaccines administered will protect children from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, influenza, hepatitis B, pneumonia, yellow fever, and measles.
This campaign—which covered six of the seven health districts across the country—was launched after MSF’s medical teams in CAR found that vaccination coverage for childhood illnesses was very low. The fact that children weren’t protected from easily preventable illnesses such as polio and measles was contributing to alarmingly high levels of mortality, well above the emergency threshold.
Immunization rates only got worse in the aftermath of the civil war that took place in 2013-2014, when the percentage of children immunized collapsed. Official Ministry of Health figures showed that from 2012 to 2014, the number of Central African children vaccinated against measles fell from 64 percent to 25 percent, and those vaccinated against acute respiratory infections fell from 52 percent to 20 percent.
While insecurity has continued to plague many communities in CAR, follow-up studies conducted by MSF show that immunization coverage in the areas targeted by the campaign has significantly improved, with vaccination coverage above 80 percent after the first round (some vaccines require more than one dose to be fully effective). This benefits not only the children who were vaccinated but also boosts immunity within each community and improves the overall health of the population.