UNICEF launches emergency hepatitis B vaccination campaign in Peru

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has launched an emergency vaccination campaign against hepatitis B for two ethnic groups in a remote region of the Peruvian Amazon, whose existence could be threatened by a prolonged outbreak of the disease.Local leaders warned that both the Candoshis and the Sharpas, located in the High Amazon, Department of Loreto, could face extinction within 10 to 12 years if preventive action, especially among children, is not taken to staunch an outbreak of hepatitis B. The population of both groups in this region totals only about 3,000.UNICEF said the situation is dramatic, with 145 cases of hepatitis B reported among the Candoshi ethnic group alone in 2001 and approximately 40 deaths registered in 2002. The agency plans to vaccinate 150 newborns of both groups every year and to complete vaccination before their first birthdays. The challenge is to achieve vaccination within 24 hours after birth to avoid contagion directly from the mothers, in what are very difficult geographical conditions. Travel from almost any of the 124 communities to the closest health centre may take up to four days.

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