September 1, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – A stalled polio campaign in rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states may go ahead in October, after the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) dropped its demand that the operation be conducted cross-border from Ethiopia or Kenya.
- A Sudanese Red Crescent employee vaccinates a boy against polio. (File/AFP)
It has also dropped its demand that vaccines, whatever their origin, should not at any point pass through any government-controlled territory.
In its latest weekly humanitarian bulletin, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) had confirmed that the government had agreed in principle to allow the polio campaign to start in October as part of a nationwide vaccination campaign.
The proposed vaccine campaign had previously stalled after the Sudanese government requested that all vaccines be sourced from its central medical stores in Khartoum which receive all vaccines imported into Sudan. The SPLM-N rejected this demand, insisting all vaccines be flown in directly from Ethiopia, Kenya or some other external location.
The two sides have yet to decide on precise dates for the planned campaign or agree on the modalities of a temporary cessation of hostilities.
OCHA said UN resident and humanitarian coordinator Ali Al-Za’atari has invited both sides to participate in a joint meeting to discuss the conditions of a temporary ceasefire agreement, as well as transport and security arrangements.
The campaign is intended to target some 160,000 children under five in non-government controlled areas where immunisation coverage has dropped significantly since 2011.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation have already agreed with Sudan’s ministry of health and the SPLM-N’s humanitarian arm, the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (SRRA) on all technical aspects of the vaccination campaign.
If the vaccination campaign goes ahead as planned, it will be the first cross-line access to SPLM-N-controlled areas from within Sudan since 2011.
OCHA said despite the best efforts of humanitarian organisations to gain access to areas in the war-torn zone, “the UN has not succeeded in delivering from within Sudan a single bag of food or a single box of medical supplies into areas controlled by the SPLM-N”.
The Sudanese government and the SPLM-N earlier signed an agreement with UN agencies, the African Union (AU) and the Arab League aiming to provide civilians in rebel-held areas with humanitarian assistance, but have so far disagreed on how it should be implemented.
OCHA said the cross-line vaccination campaign had been put forward as the clearest example of a lifesaving intervention where relief supplies cannot be diverted for military purposes.
However, ongoing disagreements over who should oversee the operation has until now prevented the vaccine campaign from going ahead.
The Sudanese government previously said it wanted its humanitarian agency to supervise the campaign, but rebels rejected its involvement, saying the operation should be organised from Ethiopia and Kenya with the participation of their humanitarian personnel.
In July, the SPLM-N proposed involving the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) as part of the vaccination campaign.
Speaking to the media recently, OCHA’s head of office in Sudan, Mark Cutts, said “vaccinating small children under five years of age has no military advantage to any side and there is no reason for such a campaign not to go ahead”.
“The request is to put a few drops of polio vaccine on the tongues of babies and tiny children. Yet after more than two years of negotiations, even this is proving difficult to achieve”.