Fast Response Stops Measles in Liberia
The small town of Zoeluapa in Liberia’s impoverished northeastern region has no electricity, no sanitation, and no health facilities. What it did have in the early months of 2011 was a severe measles outbreak. Within a short period of time, the town’s population of just 4,000 had 100 measles cases. Five children died.
Two of Dorothy Okko’s children, Doris, 10, and Rhoda, 13, contracted the disease. “They had fever, runny eyes, and sore mouths," said their mother.
In the developed world, measles outbreaks are rare thanks to widespread vaccine coverage. And global vaccination efforts have helped cut measles deaths by at least 78 percent since 2000. But measles still kills approximately 164,000 children each year often from complications like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutrition. Those who survive are frequently left with life-long disabilities, such as blindness, deafness, or brain damage.
In Zoeluapa, Dorothy Okko feared her other children would contract this highly infectious disease from their sisters. But UNICEF had already learned of the outbreak in Liberia and had sprung into action.
In a UNICEF-sponsored campaign, 80 teams of health workers fanned out across the region to immunize all children between ages six months and 16. They used any means necessary to reach even the most remote villages and communities. The teams also distributed vitamin A supplements, which help prevent measles-related deaths, and de-worming tablets for children under five, to help improve their overall well-being and ability to fight disease.
Dorothy Okko needed no convincing to take her children to the mud and stick hut in Zoeluapa where an emergency measles campaign was in full swing. “This vaccine is a blessing,” she said as she waited with dozens of other parents to get their children immunized.
The vaccine is extremely effective and UNICEF’s quick response meant that untold numbers of children were saved from this child-killer. UNICEF’s dedicated, nimble staff, its ability to work in the remotest of areas, and its focus on low-cost, effective interventions (the measles vaccine is only 24 cents per dose) are just some of the reasons it has been able to help reduce worldwide child mortality by more than one-third in the last two decades.
Photo Credit: U.S. Fund for UNICEF/Giacomo Pirozzi