UNICEF reports 4 million children vaccinated against polio in Iraq

Mealses immunisation to protect millions of children planned
BAGHDAD, 4 March 2003 - Preliminary results from UNICEF and the Iraqi Ministry of Health revealed today that 98 per cent of 4.2 million children under five were successfully reached in a nationwide polio immunization campaign last week. This result was achieved through the dedication of 14,000 volunteer Iraqi health workers from over 880 health clinics in the country.

Between February 23 and 27, the volunteers formed 7,000 teams, setting up vaccination stations at local clinics and going from door to door in a bid to reach children.

The initiative was Iraq's last national polio campaign. Smaller campaigns in autumn 2003 and 2004 will mark the final stages of polio eradication in the country. Iraq has been polio-free for the last three years.

UNICEF has supported Polio National Immunisation Days in Iraq for three years, with funding from ECHO, the European Community Humanitarian Office.

Measles immunisation stepped up

Routine measles immunization has recently been stepped up in Iraq, reaching 92 per cent of children under five. Yet UNICEF estimates that there are roughly 500,000 Iraqi children under five that have missed out on being immunised against measles. On March 6 UNICEF will set out to immunise these unvaccinated children. As measles is the biggest killer of children caught up in emergency situations, the aim is to protect them against the disease before a conflict breaks out.

Iraq's Ministry of Health will manage the campaign, with UNICEF's financial and logistical support, including the provision of half a million doses of measles vaccine.

The under-fives are not the only children UNICEF is aiming to protect against measles. Recent data shows that there is a growing pool of measles infection among children aged 6-12. Unvaccinated children in this age group could infect younger, unvaccinated children who are much more vulnerable to death from measles, especially in an emergency. In response, UNICEF will be supporting a nationwide campaign to immunise 3.5 million children in this age group. Ten thousand health workers will go from house to house and school to school for ten days in order to reach children.

For further information please contact us:

Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Geneva:, (+41-79) 909-5509
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF New York, (+1-212) 326-7261