17 March 2015 – An emergency vaccination drive is under way in Vanuatu to protect children hit by Cyclone Pam, as fears grow of a serious measles outbreak. 

Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are supporting the Ministry of Health to reach children who are especially vulnerable to disease after the Category 5 Storm tore through the archipelago. 

Vanuatu already has very low rates of routine immunisation and suffered an outbreak of measles – a potentially deadly disease - in early March. 

“Six teams were deployed throughout the reachable parts of Port Vila to start measles vaccination today,” Unicef Pacific Representative, Dr Karen Allen, said. “Santo and Port Vila remain high priorities in terms of measles given the previous number of confirmed and suspected cases.”

Up to six additional teams are expected to be trained and to start by the end of this week. They will be vaccinating children, providing them with vital Vitamin A and handing out bednets to protect against malaria.

Unicef and partners were able to restore the cold storage facility on Vanuatu – which keeps vaccines at the correct temperature and effective - after it was damaged in the Cyclone.   

“Priority for vaccinations will be given to children in evacuation centres, with a schedule of administering the vaccines in the early evening when most people are there,” Dr Allen said. “Retired nurses and medical staff with the necessary skills have been hired to carry out the campaign.”

Unicef is also distributing health supplies for children and families affected by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. These include basic health kits, oral rehydration salt sachets, zinc tablets, vitamin A capsules and de-worming tablets.

Unicef has also donated tents, backpacks with school supplies, recreation kits, hygiene kits, water tanks, soap for hand washing, collapsible water containers and water purification tablets.

The scope of the Vanuatu disaster unfolded as global leaders met in Sendai, Japan for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake was at the conference. At a session on children and youth, he spoke about the importance of disaster risk reduction.

“By the end of the 1990s, climate-change related disasters affected about 66 million children per year,” Mr Lake said. “In the coming decades, this number is projected to reach 200 million children ― a tripling. More children dying. More out of school. More facing the risk of trafficking, abuse, exploitation and forced labour.

“And today while communication lines are down and we don't know the full extent of the disaster, it looks as though some 60,000 children are affected by the cyclone that hit Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

“As we address such disasters around the world, we must understand that they are felt most desperately in the poorest and most disadvantaged countries - and by the poorest and most disadvantaged people in these countries.”

Photos and video footage

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Notes for editors:

For further information please contact the Unicef UK Press Office on +44 (0)20 7375 6030 or media@unicef.org.uk

In the Pacific: (Please be mindful of time difference) 

Alice Clements, Unicef Vanuatu, aclements@unicef.org, +678 546 7132 

Donna Hoerder, dhoerder@unicef.org, +679 3236 100 

Andrew Brown, Bangkok (EAPRO regional office) ambrown@unicef.org +66 843 347506 

About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children.  As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk