(AA) – Ebola-hit Liberia on Friday embarked on a nationwide immunization drive to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of children against measles and polio.
“We have been through a challenging time; we cannot afford to see our children die of measles or sit and watch them become crippled from polio,” Liberian Vice-President Joseph Boakai said at a launch ceremony at a Monrovia hospital.
The week-long campaign aims to vaccinate more than 683,000 children against polio and 603,000 against measles.
Polio vaccines will be given to children aged up to 59 months, while the measles vaccine will be given to children between the ages of six and 59 months.
Children between the ages of 12 and 59 months will also receive deworming medicine.
The Health Ministry says the initiative is necessary to ensure that the country does not experience another serious health crisis following the recent Ebola outbreak.
The initiative comes after seven Liberians recently succumbed to measles.
According to the Health Ministry, 552 suspected measles cases have been recorded, with the most affected being children between six and 59 months.
After the vaccination campaign, the ministry will carry out a coverage survey to get a better picture of the health situation among children, the ministry said.
At the ceremony, Boakai said the recent Ebola outbreak had led parents to refrain from going to hospitals to have their children immunized against polio and measles.
“Parents, this is not an Ebola vaccine. So please bring your children for vaccination!” Boakai added.
UNICEF representative in Liberia Sheldon Yett, for his part, said that, while the county had been focused on Ebola, measles – a simple disease that can be prevented – continued to threaten the lives of Liberia’s children.
“Ten percent of children are dying from measles, making it one of the leading causes of premature death among children,” Yett said.
He said community partnership was the surest way to strengthen immunization, as was the case with Ebola.
Before the Ebola outbreak, the country had planned to vaccinate 10,000 children per month. But it was only able to vaccinate 4,000, as parents, fearing Ebola infections, refrained from taking their children to hospital.
For more than four years, the country has not seen an outbreak of measles, according to Dr. Bernice Dahn, Liberia’s chief medical officer.
“Ebola came and our immunization coverage dropped. Before Ebola, we were immunizing 10,000 children per month for measles. Since then, this has been greatly reduced,” Dahn said.
She added: “If our children don’t die from Ebola, they can still die of measles and tetanus.”