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Two Million Children Vax Against Measles In Darfur

Sudan: UN Agencies Vaccinate 2 Million Children Against Measles In Darfur

Two million children in Sudan's troubled Darfur region have been immunized against measles, but as many as 500,000 others are without vaccinations because it is too dangerous for health workers to reach them, United Nations agencies said today.

More than 2,000 teams from the Sudanese health ministry and from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization WHO) have spent the past month vaccinating children across Darfur - an impoverished region similar in size to France.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today that "we went as far as we could given the insecurity," but estimated that half a million more children still missed out on vaccinations against the often deadly disease.

Ms. Bellamy said she was particularly concerned about the situation in west Darfur, calling on the Government, rebel groups and armed militias to guarantee the safety of health teams so they can carry out their work.

The number of measles cases - and the number of deaths - surged ahead of the vaccination campaign, especially among children living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). More than a million people are thought to be IDPs and 170,000 others are refugees in neighbouring Chad because of the conflict in Darfur.

WHO said immunization teams started working at the IDP camps, where measles can spread most rapidly, and then began fanning out across Darfur. About 500,000 children were also given vitamin A capsules at the same time they were immunized against measles.

WHO is also sending senior officials to Darfur and Khartoum next week to see first-hand the health situation among IDPs and to hold talks with Sudanese officials. The UN agency's disease experts are particularly concerned that the current rainy season is increasing the chances of outbreaks of cholera, malaria and dysentery.

At one camp in north Darfur, 22 deaths - mostly from diarrhoea - have been reported in the last week, while malnutrition among children is rising at another camp in the same area.

A UN spokesman said UNICEF and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are investigating Khartoum's claims that IDPs are returning voluntarily from those two camps to their homes to prepare for the planting season. The agencies' initial assessment reveals serious security concerns.

The probe by the UN agencies will extend to west Darfur, where local authorities said some 6,500 people have returned recently from Chad.

Meanwhile, humanitarian workers estimate almost 13,000 Dinkas have become internally displaced in south Darfur in recent weeks because of a fresh wave of ethnic displacement.

In a separate development, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced it has reached a deal with Libya to transport food from its port city of Benghazi to northern Chad. During June the <"">WFP distributed almost 2,500 tons of food to 127,000 refugees living in eastern Chad.

WFP spokesman Simon Pluess said insecurity and the recent onset of the rainy season had made it difficult for humanitarian workers to bring relief.

>From early next week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (<"">UNHCR) is airlifting nearly 180 tons of relief items to Chad from Denmark. The relief items include blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting and jerry cans. The agency is due to open its ninth safe camp in eastern Chad next week, away from the border with Sudan and the threat of raids by militias allied to Khartoum.

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