UN officials gather to discuss strategy to combat polio epidemic in Sudan

Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told the meeting of the UN’s country team that if the outbreak is not stopped rapidly, then restrictions may have to be introduced on the movement of people in the infected countries.WHO and UNICEF will also conduct a polio vaccination campaign across the whole of the country next month, the UN Advance Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS) reported.Sudan had been polio-free for several years but the disease has spread across at least 10 nations in Africa this year after vaccinations in some states of northern Nigeria were suspended in mid-2003 amid concerns from local religious leaders about the safety of the oral vaccine. Those concerns were later proven to be baseless and the vaccinations have resumed.Meanwhile, in an interview with UN Radio, UNICEF’s Special Representative for the Darfur Crisis Keith McKenzie said children are continuing to bear the brunt of the region’s conflict that has displaced more than 1.65 million people and led to the deaths of thousands of villagers since it began almost two years ago.Speaking from N’Djamena, Chad, Mr. McKenzie said his agency estimated that children form about 45 per cent of the 2.5 million Sudanese needing help as a result of the conflict between Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups. The UN has already labelled Darfur the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”These children have been witness to terrible events. They have seen family members being killed, they have seen their homes being looted and burned down, they have had to flee,” he said.Mr. McKenzie said UNICEF was trying to introduce some form of education to Darfur and the refugee camps in neighbouring Chad “because it provides these children with some form of normalcy. It brings children into schools and is an entry point for all our other child-centred activities.”About 49,000 of the estimated 63,000 Sudanese school-age children living in refugee camps in eastern Chad attend school already, and Mr. McKenzie said UNICEF plans to build more classrooms to cater for the remaining children.

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