MOGADISHU, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Two United Nations agencies and Somalia's Health Ministry on Monday launched a campaign to immunize over 4.7 million children aged from six months to 10 years against measles in the drought-hit Horn of African nation.
The nationwide campaign, being carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), national and local health authorities, aims to protect millions of children against the potentially deadly effects of measles.
Ghulam Popal, WHO representative in Somalia, said the campaign will intensify efforts to improve immunity against measles and reach unvaccinated children.
"As we saw last year when partners responded to a major cholera outbreak, with the right interventions, WHO and health authorities are confident that similar success may be seen in controlling this measles outbreak," Popal said in a joint statement issued in Mogadishu.
This week, the UN agencies said, the campaign targets 2.7 million children in the southern and central states, along with 1.1 million children in Somaliland.
The vaccinations will be available at health centers and temporary vaccination sites. Puntland implemented its campaign in January when over 933,000 children were vaccinated.
According to the agencies, more than 2,800 cases of suspected measles have been reported since the start of the year, with the most affected regions including Bay, Banadir and Mudug.
In 2017, there were more than 23,000 suspected cases of measles -- six times as many as in 2016 -- with the vast majority (83 percent) affecting children under 10.
"In early 2017, WHO, UNICEF and partners, together with national health authorities, vaccinated nearly 600,000 children aged six months to five years for measles in hard-to-reach and hotspot areas across Somalia," the UN agencies said.
Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF Somalia representative, said more than 1.2 million children are projected to be at risk of acute malnutrition in the next 12 months.
"These children are nine times more likely to die of killer diseases such as measles and acute watery diarrhea/cholera than healthy children," Lauwerier said.
More than two years of severe drought has led to widespread child malnutrition, mass displacement, and a lack of access to clean water and sanitation, creating ideal conditions for infectious disease outbreaks.
"The situation is especially critical for millions of under-vaccinated, weak and vulnerable children who are susceptible to contracting infectious diseases," Lauwerier said.