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Going The Extra Mile To Vaccinate Children Trapped By Conflict

02/17/2017 11:26 EST | Updated 02/17/2017 11:27 EST

In conflict-affected regions like northeast Nigeria, children miss out on life-saving vaccines.

Anyone with access to a TV or even a smartphone has unlimited access to images of the destruction that armed conflict causes around the globe. We can see details of the ways war and violence threaten and disrupt children's lives.

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But conflict also attacks the systems that support the routines of daily life. Though rarely captured in news alerts, conflict also cripples health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene services. Access to life-saving immunization too often is a casualty of the breakdown of these essential systems. The result is that, during conflict, millions of children miss out on the basic vaccines they need to stay healthy and have a fair chance in life. Most often the children affected are the most vulnerable to disease.

In a major vaccination campaign concluding in January, 4.7 million children were vaccinated in response to a measles outbreak in northeast Nigeria. The campaign covered the three states most affected by the Boko Haram conflict -- Adamawa, Borno and Yobe -- where insecurity has limited vaccination efforts.

In 2016, there were approximately 25,000 cases of measles among children in Nigeria; 97 per cent of the cases were in children under the age of 10 and at least a hundred children died.

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"Security has improved in some areas so we have acted quickly to access places we could not previously reach and protect children from the spread of a very dangerous disease," said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria. "We are still extremely concerned about children living in large areas of Borno state that are not yet accessible."

Measles infections tend to increase during the first half of the year because of higher temperatures. Measles vaccination coverage across Nigeria remains low, with a little over 50 per cent of children reached, but in areas affected by conflict, children are particularly vulnerable. The risks for malnourished children who have weakened immunity are further heightened.

The conflict and resulting displacement have left more than 4.4 million children in Nigeria in need of humanitarian assistance, with an estimated 450,000 children likely to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2017.

The vaccination campaign, conducted in partnership with the Nigerian government, WHO and several non-governmental organizations, also includes a vitamin A supplement for children under five to boost their immunity as well as de-worming tablets. Most of the funding for the campaign was provided by the Measles and Rubella Initiative.

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The campaign is part of UNICEF's wider emergency health response in the three northeast Nigerian states. In partnership with Nigerian authorities, UNICEF has provided primary health care services for both internally displaced persons and the vulnerable host communities within which they have sought shelter.

Health clinics have been rehabilitated, damage from the fighting has been repaired and temporary clinics have been set up, equipped and stocked in camps for the displaced, reaching more than 4.2 million people with services that include routine vaccination, ante-natal care and midwifery support, and treatment for common illnesses such as malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia, as well as measles.

To help UNICEF vaccinate vulnerable children in Nigeria and around the world, click here.

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