Sudan measles outbreak prompts UN alarm

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An estimated 500,000 children in Sudan’s conflict zones are at risk from the outbreak, UNICEF says. Photo: WHO/F. Guerrero

A "massive and continuing" measles outbreak in Sudan prompted the UN Tuesday to call for access to 500,000 children who've been cut off by conflict for the last four years.

Children's agency UNICEF made the appeal to armed groups after announcing more than 2,200 confirmed cases of the disease had been diagnosed in the country in recent months.

Fourteen out of 18 states in Sudan have been affected so far and UNICEF says that smaller outbreaks have also spread to neighbouring countries including Ethiopia and Chad.

Daniel Johnson has more.

The number of confirmed cases of measles is four times higher than the average seen in the last two years and more than half of them involve children under five, UNICEF says.

Mortality rates are highest in East Darfur, at 13 per cent, and 27 children have died so far.

Speaking from Sudan, UNICEF country representative Geert Cappelacre said that the outbreak "was countrywide".

It's also a clear indication that children are missing out on vaccination programmes for which the government and rebels should take responsibility, Cappelacre said.

"Because of conflict we have not been able to access the population in some areas for the last four years. So we have there a massive group of children that are unvaccinated and may be one of the causes of the outbreaks of measles we are having today."

UNICEF says that basic social services are still lacking in Sudan where 3.5 million people continue to face huge humanitarian needs.

The UN agency wants the country's $46 billion foreign debt to be reassessed so it can be invested in health, nutrition and education.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration: 1’07″

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