Iraqi Red Crescent celebrates its 71st birthday as volunteers wrap up first polio immunization campaign of 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
Geneva, 27 February 2003- More than 560 volunteers of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) are currently participating in the polio immunization campaign, organized this week throughout Iraq under the supervision of the Ministry of Health. Some four million Iraqi children were vaccinated against the preventable disease over the last five days.

The campaign is organized at the time the Iraqi Red Crescent is celebrating its 71st anniversary.

Until tomorrow, Friday 28 February, Red Crescent volunteers will visit the communities in high-risk areas, going door-to-door to determine whether all children under five years of age have received the two drops of oral vaccine or not. "Red Crescent volunteers provide essential support, since they monitor the effectiveness of the immunization campaign," said Sten Swedlund, the Federation's Head of Delegation in Iraq. In Baghdad, another 200 volunteers assisted government staff in registering and vaccinating children.

Although approximately 90 per cent of monitored children are already vaccinated, the volunteers are able to reach remote areas where some villages have not been touched by the vaccination campaigns. They have access to all 18 governorates of Iraq, including the three Kurdish regions in the north of the country.

Four campaigns are organized each year in Iraq, as a combined exercise of the Iraqi Ministry of Health, the United Nations aid agencies and the Iraqi Red Crescent. Efforts to eradicate poliomyelitis were intensified in 2000 after 77 cases were reported in 1999. The country is expected to reach the goal of complete eradication of polio in 2004.

The United Nations' Children Fund (UNICEF) contributed some US$ 30,000, via the International Federation, to cover the expenditure. The IRCS is also actively involved in monitoring measles immunization campaigns, whose next round will be held in March.

"Given the expected humanitarian crisis should a war happen, it is of vital importance that all Iraqi children have adequate protection against these diseases," Swedlund noted. In addition to supporting the Red Crescent activities, the International Federation is rehabilitating primary health care centres across the country. At the end of 2002, the number of centres rehabilitated or provided with medical equipment reached 105, serving a population of some two million people.

The Red Crescent runs two surgical hospitals, a maternity hospital and a clinic in Baghdad, and an orthopaedic centre in the northern city of Mosul, all providing services for very low fees. Health teams -including doctors and nurses, some of them volunteers ? travel to remote areas of the country to check the health status of the population and distribute medicines at no cost. More than 2,500 Red Crescent volunteers also give health and hygiene education lectures in health centres, schools, mosques and community centres across the country.

Celebrations of the Red Crescent's anniversary will be organized in all 18 IRCS branches on Saturday 1 March, with the participation in Baghdad of representatives of the International Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Note: Celebrations to mark the event will be held from 10:00 to 11:00 local time on Saturday 1 March at the Al-Rasheed hotel in Baghdad

For further information, or to set up interviews (ISDN line available in Geneva), please contact:

In Amman

Sebastien Carliez, Regional Information Delegate,Tel: + 962 795 900 520
Saleh Dabbakeh, Regional Information Officer, Tel: + 962 795 851 122

In Geneva

Marie-Françoise Borel, Press Officer, Tel: + 41 22 730 43 46 / + 41 79 217 33 45
Media Service Duty Phone, Tel: + 41 79 416 38 81