By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 6, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Ethiopian Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Saturday launched a joint vaccination campaign for famine-displaced Somali children in in south-eastern Ethiopia following a suspected measles outbreak.
According to the UN around 640,000 children are acutely malnourished in Somalia, forcing many to flee to neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. The United States says that in the last three months over 29,000 children under five years old have died as a result of the drought and famine just in southern Somalia.
In the Horn of Africa as a whole more than 12 million people are estimated to be in need of immediate food aid. UNHCR said it was alarmed by a suspected measles outbreak among Somali refugees in Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado camps and urged a rapid response.
Moses Okello, UNHCR’s Representative in Ethiopia said he was "shaken" by the situation in the Dollo Ado camps, held an urgent meeting Saturday with Ethiopian Government officials and UNHCR health partners to agree a plan of action.
He said the UNICEF and WHO, through Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health, are providing the needed vaccines.
“This situation is alarming and we cannot afford to wait. We must act now, urgently and decisively, to arrest and turn around this situation,” said Moses Okello, UNHCR’s Representative in Ethiopia.
The UN body said a team of health experts have left for the Dollo Ado camps on Saturday to reach thousands of vulnerable children who are facing threats from teh suspected measles outbreak.
Out of the 25,000 people in Kobe camp — the most affected of the Dollo Ado camps — there have been 47 recorded measles deaths, the office of the UN’s Refugee Agency in a statement. There were reports of 25 measles deaths in a single day earlier this month by local health workers.
Vaccination of all children between the ages of six months and 15 years of age was started Friday August 5 for all refugee children being transferred from the transit centre to the newly-opened Hilaweyn camps.
Following Saturday’s meeting, UNHCR and the government will lead a UN/NGO team of health experts to Dollo Ado on Sunday, 7 August to support the roll-out of a plan of action which includes the preparation of a mass vaccination campaign to begin August 9 for all children aged six months to 15 years in Kobe camp.
The vaccination campaign which will include vaccination against polio will be extended to the other camps as well as to the hosting communities where deemed necessary by the health authorities.
The suspected outbreak combined with the fragile health of most of the over 100,000 refugees in the Dollo Ado camps "could lead to high mortality and serious illness" UNHCR said. As of August 5 the population of the camps was estimated to have reached 118,400.
Nearly 78,000 of them arrived this year. This is in addition to more than 41,600 Somali refugees in the Jijiga area of the Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region.
Ethiopia hosts a total of 237,500 refugees, mainly from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.