Myanmar

First Round of Vital Polio Immunization Campaign to Reach 300,000 Children in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

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Sittwe, Rakhine, 27 March 2013: This week a polio immunization campaign is underway in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Between 26 and 30 March, 300,000 children under the age of five are being reached with two drops of polio vaccines to protect them against the disease. The second round will follow in end of April.

The Chief Minister of the Rakhine State inaugurated the campaign that is taking place in 12 Townships. Preliminary reports received from Sittwe indicate a good start on the first day of the campaign with community participation from both communities to get their children polio drops.

That both communities welcome the campaign is a positive breakthrough in the context of the inter-communal conflict that caused widespread displacement and tension in the Rakhine state since June last year. The instability caused considerable damage to the health system, with 44 per cent of the children under the age of 5 could not be reached through routine immunization. It also caused postponement in the immunization drive in 800 villages of 12 affected townships, Maung Daw, Buthidaung , Rathetaung, Sittwe, Ponnan Kyun, Kyauk Taw, Mrauk Oo, Min Byar, Myaebon, Pauk Taw, Kyauk Phyu, and Rambyae.

The Department of Health is planning to revitalize the immunization activities for all targeted population with a set of short and longer term measures by revamping equitable essential services including immunization. UNICEF and WHO are providing full support in rolling out the campaign.

On this round, vaccinators plan to reach all under-five year old children regardless of sex, religion and immunization status to reduce the immunity gap especially in northern parts of Rakhine.

“UNICEF will continue to support and monitor the campaign to ensure that children from all communities, including Rakhine ethnics and Muslim Rohingyas, are reached with vital polio doses” said Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative. “It is a ray of hope amidst the prevailing tensions and mistrust between communities”, he added.

UNICEF extended support to the Department of Health to mobilize communities and parents to get their children immunized and engage local leaders to support the campaigns with interventions in state, township and community levels including hard-to-reach townships and IDP camps. The campaign messages addressed the lack of trust and were disseminated through a host of materials such as posters, billboards, invitation cards to parents and caregivers. Loudspeakers were used to call on parents and communities to participate with their under-5 children.

Myanmar has been largely free of polio cases between 2007 and 2010 until a few cases remerged. The country is striving toward polio eradication in 2014 along with other South East Asia Region countries.

The essential step toward eradication of polio is vaccinating every child. The progress achieved so far can only be maintained and improved by reaching ALL children living in remote, inaccessible, disaster and conflict affected communities or socially excluded groups with full range of vaccination. The polio campaign in Rakhine is a crucial step also toward the important goal of polio eradication.

Challenges, including the effects of ethnic conflict, security and safety for health care workers, accessibility made the logistics of the Rakhine polio campaign especially formidable. Ministry of Health in partnership with UNICEF, WHO, local and international NGOs are committed to the successful implementation of the campaign.

“Its success will be key to open doors to the delivery of other live saving interventions such as immunization against measles, nutrition supplementation, and water supply and sanitation under the leadership of the Government, and to encourage the donor community step up its support to the humanitarian response in Rakhine,” said Bainvel.

For more information, please contact:

Zafrin Chowdhury, Chief, Programme Communication and Information Section, UNICEF Myanmar, Tel: +95-1-375527-32, zchowdhury@unicef.org

Ye Lwin Oo, Communication Officer, Programme Communication and Information Section, UNICEF Myanmar, Tel: +95-1-375527-32, ylwinoo@unicef.org

Sandar Linn, Communication Officer, Programme Communication and Information Section, UNICEF Myanmar, Tel: +95-1-375527-32, slinn@unicef.org