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An additional 1 million children will be immunized against measles, rubella, and polio this month, as Papua New Guinea (PNG) ramps up its ongoing free vaccination campaign. 

The three-week campaign will see children six months to 5 years of age injected with the measles and rubella vaccine. Children under 5 years old, including infants, will also receive the oral polio vaccine.

James Marape, the new prime minister of PNG, has appealed for parents to bring their children to vaccination posts nationwide to receive the free immunizations.  

"If you think your child is important, then bring your child to be vaccinated,” Marape told reporters during the campaign launch in eastern Morobe Province. “We can move our country to be polio-free by the end of this year.” 

The campaign is run by the National Department of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO), and UNICEF. 

Funding to support vaccinations will be donated by leading health organizations Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and Rotary International. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will also pitch in, as will the governments of Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. 

Luo Dapeng, the WHO representative in PNG, has thanked the international community for their ongoing support to ensure every last child nationwide is vaccinated against life-threatening diseases.

"We need to continue to work together to make sure every child is fully vaccinated,” he stated. “We thank the partners in supporting this massive endeavor to protect children from measles, rubella, and polio. Your investment in the health of the children of PNG is an investment in their future.”

The measles, rubella, and polio vaccination campaign comes after a string of polio drives throughout the past year.

Back in July 2018, PNG experienced its first polio outbreak in 18 years. With low-immunization coverage blamed, PNG then conducted four nationwide vaccination campaigns. According to the WHO, in the last 10 months, at least 3.3 million children under 15 years received multiple doses of the polio vaccine. 

Dapeng claims, however, that the biggest current threat to the health of PNG children is measles.

"Measles is a disease of public health concern because of its highly infectious nature and capacity to cause serious illness and even death, especially in populations with low vaccination coverage, endemic malnutrition, and limited health care capacity such as PNG,” he said. “We must reduce the imminent risk of a large-scale measles outbreak and prevent another possible emergency.” 

More children die globally from measles than any other vaccine-preventable disease. In 2017, the disease — spread through coughing and sneezing — caused almost 110,000 deaths worldwide. The last major measles outbreak in PNG, back in 2015, resulted in 2,000 confirmed cases and 362 deaths. 

Global measles cases have risen significantly so far in 2019 — up 300% compared to the same time last year.


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