UN agencies launch polio campaign in contested Nuba Mountains of Sudan
First Time in 19 Years That UN Has Had Full Access to the Region

Geneva/Khartoum/New York
February 23, 2000

A program to immunize 77,000 children against polio was launched today in the Nuba Mountains region of Sudan as part of a campaign to vaccinate all children under five throughout the country. The Nuba Mountains portion of the polio drive marks the first time in almost 19 years that the UN has gained access to deliver humanitarian relief in all parts of this contested region. The polio campaign is being facilitated by UNICEF and WHO.

While UN agencies have conducted two recent assessment missions to the Nuba Mountains, this is the first time that the Government has approved the delivery of UN assistance to people living in the SPLM-controlled areas of the Nuba Mountains. The people of region have suffered more than a decade of civil conflict, resulting in widespread human suffering, displacement, and loss of assets and livelihoods.

Welcoming the support of the Government of Sudan and the SPLM to extend the polio immunization campaign to children in the conflict-plagued Nuba Mountains, Thomas Ekvall, UNICEF Representative to Khartoum, said, "The survival, protection and development of all of Sudan's children, not just some, are central to UNICEF's mandate and program in Sudan, and we are very pleased with this opportunity."

The operation, valued at half a million dollars, has been made possible by negotiations between the UN, the Government of Sudan, and the SPLM, which resulted in declarations by the warring parties of a "window of tranquillity" during which hostilities would cease and immunization could be carried out. The days of tranquillity are expected to last through the end of the month. The UN hopes to immunize a total of 5.4 million children in Sudan during the present campaign, including 77,000 in the Nuba region.

On 18 February, UNICEF, WHO, WFP and Medicins sans Frontiers-Holland began pre-positioning staff, vaccines, vaccine carriers, ice packs, Vitamin A capsules and primary health care kits in locations in the Nuba Mountains from the UN base in Lokichokkio, northern Kenya. Other supplies distributed to vaccinators, volunteers and porters as incentives were food, salt, and oil provided by WFP, as well as soap and clothes.

Staff of UNICEF, WHO and MSF-H are currently in the Nuba Mountains, where they are linking up with Sudanese and international NGO partners. The personnel are subdivided into six teams that will cover the greater part of the region by foot. The campaign in the Nuba region also relies on the use of donkeys to transport the cold chain.

The campaign in the Nuba mountains is a component of the Sudan National Immunization Days (NIDs) and part of the global program for polio eradication. In Sudan, the NIDs are co-ordinated by Sudanese authorities, UNICEF, and WHO, with the assistance of several NGOs. The national campaign began in Sudan on February 17, and will continue through the end of this week.

The United Nations is requesting $125.6 million under the year 2000 Inter-agency appeal for Sudan, of which $10 million is targeted for multi-sectoral activities in the Nuba Mountains.