Two UN agencies said Monday they have kicked off a three-day campaign aimed at immunizing 400,000 children under the age of five in Somalia against polio and measles.

The 1,200 health workers will also offer vitamin A and deworming tablets at fixed and outreach sites, all amid a COVID-19 pandemic across 17 Banadir districts in Mogadishu in a campaign conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Mamunur Malik, WHO Somalia Representative, emphasized to Somali communities that every adult has a responsibility to help Somali children lead healthy lives.

“I would like to encourage parents, caregivers and all adults in Banadir and surrounding areas to make the most of this opportunity and visit vaccination sites to ensure every child aged under five is vaccinated against polio and measles, and that every child receives additional supplements to keep them healthy,” Malik said.

“As caregivers, we all have an obligation to ensure our children lead healthy and productive lives,” Malik added in a joint statement issued in Mogadishu.

Throughout the campaign, health workers will observe comprehensive COVID-19 infection prevention measures, such as regular hand washing and wearing face masks, to keep families safe. In addition, health workers will share information with families on how to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Penelope Campbell, Chief of Health, UNICEF Somalia said as the COVID-19 response continues, it is critical that immunization drives are sustained at the same time.

“Measles and polio are vaccine-preventable diseases and through this campaign, we can stop the further spread of these outbreaks and save the lives of countless children,” said Campbell.

According to the UN, even though the trainees have years of experience in planning and conducting immunization campaigns, some are a little anxious about how Somali families will react to them, trying to offer health services during an ongoing pandemic of a highly contagious disease.

The UN agencies said the COVID-19 pandemic also meant health workers paused other regular, planned activities, such as the integrated polio-measles campaign, as they worked to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide much-needed treatment for infected people.

According to the UN, some 744 children in Banadir have reportedly been infected with measles, which accounts for around half of the total cases in the country since the start of the year.

The UN agencies said the successful completion of the current mass immunization campaign against measles and polio in the midst of an ongoing pandemic in Somalia will not only protect an estimated 400,000 Somali children against vaccine-preventable diseases but will also focus on the importance of resuming essential healthcare services, like the routine immunization activities in fragile settings using standard health safety measures.

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