Dead Sea, July 17, 2005 - The United Nations is supporting Iraq's authorities in conducting a massive polio vaccination campaign targeting nearly 5 million children across the country as part of a series of initiatives aimed at bolstering health among the population.
In recent weeks, the UN worked to vaccinate 4.7 million Iraqi children five years and under. Since last year, the UN has donated over 10 million doses of oral polio vaccine to Iraq for the country's children in what officials of the world body term a "shining example" of how much can be achieved despite the prevailing insecurity.
Iraqi national teams, organized by the Ministry of Health and with support from the UN, have been able to access all communities and to provide the vaccination. The cold chain so crucial to preserving polio supplies has met a number of serious challenges, including recent disruptions to the power supply and a major fire at the national cold store facility.
Social mobilization efforts conducted by the health authorities all over Iraq have been particularly successful and at times extremely creative, involving not just television spots but also the use of loud speakers, banners, flyers, and the mobilization of religious and women's groups.
In an innovative twist, two mobile phone service providers sent text (SMS) messages to all cell phones dependent on their service to announce the polio immunization days and announce that mobile teams would visit all houses. Many mothers reported learning about the anti-polio drive through these SMS messages, and UN officials said this support by private companies demonstrated the spirit of corporate civil responsibility emerging in Iraq.
Advance training ensured that the vaccination teams would know not only how to operate, but also how to communicate. The teams were taught to introduce themselves to families, brief them on the importance of polio immunization, and ask about whether anyone had observed any potential signs of the disease in their social circle.
The urgency of this effort is heightened by the alarming rise in the incidence of polio cases in nearby Yemen. With considerable numbers of people moving across that country's border with Saudi Arabia, health officials warn of a growing potential for the disease to be "imported" to Iraq. To prevent this, they stress the imperative need to maintain very high coverage of polio immunization among Iraqis.
As part of broader efforts to improve health conditions in Iraq, the UN also supported the national authorities in conducting a series of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccination campaigns targeting Iraqi children up to the age of 12.
In addition, the world body has helped to rehabilitate over 60 primary health care centres while continuing backing construction.
In addition, the UN has helped to rehabilitate key hospitals, including burn wards and the cardiology centre in Basrah hospital, as well as the Nutrition Research Institute, public health laboratories in Baghdad, Najaf and Mosul and Basrah, nursing training centres in Baghdad, Suleimanyah, Karbala and Basrah, and the National Blood Transfusion Centre.
To complement this rehabilitation and construction, the UN has helped to procure millions of dollars worth of equipment and supplies, including 10 ambulances, 108 monitoring vehicles, laboratory equipment and international reference books.
With donors slated to meet at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 18 and 19 June to discuss Iraq's reconstruction needs, UN officials are urging a message of hope. A joint effort involving the UN and the Government, together with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Iraq, can address immediate needs. This will help the Iraqis to realize a number of long sought social dividends like improved infrastructure and basic social services.
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