- Fighting in the western Sudanese region of Darfur has affected a second round of polio vaccination in parts of North Darfur, aid workers said on Thursday.
"The second round, which was scheduled for 10-12 December, has been partially done in government-controlled areas," Ute Kirch, Darfur project coordinator for the German NGO, Malteser International, said. "In the other areas, NGOs did not implement it. We will go ahead in those areas at the end of January, if the security situation allows."
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which is supporting the campaign with the World Health Organization (WHO, confirmed it was under way in government-controlled areas but "there had been some problems getting access to localised parts of North Darfur due to ongoing fighting.
"We will have a clearer picture in the coming weeks, as final coverage reports are compiled on the ground and fed back to Khartoum for analysis," Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Sudan senior communication officer, said.
"However, teams continue to work in those areas that can be accessed," he added, noting that the campaign in areas controlled by the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) had been planned for January.
"It was not intended to undertake the campaign in those [SLA-controlled] areas this time around because time is needed to secure guaranteed access, establish modalities for operating in the SLA areas and arrange logistics," Cawardine said.
Malteser, which vaccinated 6,542 children during the first round in November, said the insecurity around El Fasher had affected its other health programmes, including support for five health facilities. "We cannot transport staff or medicines, and cannot plan ahead because the situation is unpredictable," Kirch told IRIN.
Other NGO sources said El Fasher was calm but tense on Thursday. There were, however, reports of clashes south of Tawilla and west of Tabit, North Darfur, between rebel fighters and pro-government forces.
In Geneva, the UN Nations Human Rights Council agreed on Wednesday to dispatch a five-member high-level mission to Darfur to assess the situation in the war-torn region. "The decision...sends a united message that the ongoing violence and killing in Darfur is unacceptable and must stop," UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said in a statement welcoming the announcement.
At the same time, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group urged European Union leaders, who are holding a summit in Brussels, to support tough new action against Sudanese officials for what they called their failure to end abuses in Darfur.
In a statement to the Human Rights Council, UNICEF warned that the Darfur situation was getting worse for women and children, and humanitarian actors were finding it increasingly difficult to access vulnerable populations.
"This year’s UN and government [of Sudan] Darfur-wide Emergency Food Security and Nutrition survey found that malnutrition rates have begun to increase," it said. "Over 70 percent of the population is experiencing food insecurity, and the coverage of lifesaving interventions such as measles vaccination is still below the level required to prevent outbreaks."
According to UNICEF, six localised nutrition surveys had highlighted areas of Darfur where more than one in five children under the age of five was acutely malnourished.
Since May, at least 23 incidences of NGOs being forced to withdraw staff from areas of Darfur because of growing insecurity had been reported, the agency added. Of these, 12 resulted in the permanent withdrawal of personnel.
The withdrawals had left about 700,000 people highly vulnerable. Staff of state organisations had also been killed or abducted, while children and women had also been killed, maimed and abused.
"There are regular reports of abductions, sexual violence and rape against women and girls," the agency noted. "For example, in the second week of November, two girls were raped while collecting firewood near a camp for [IDPs] in South Darfur. The same week, six women were abducted by armed men; only one woman escaped."
On Monday, WHO said ongoing insecurity was continuing to prevent access to healthcare in Darfur, because many NGOs providing primary healthcare had suspended or cut back activities. Decreased NGO and UN activity had also led to a deterioration in the sanitary and hygiene conditions in IDP camps.
Noting that the security situation in Darfur had remained tense and volatile, WHO said over a three-week period, three aid vehicles had been hijacked around El Geneina, West Darfur, and several more in South Darfur. Four workers of the Water and Environmental Sanitation Department had been abducted and were still missing, and fighting had left an unknown number of human and livestock casualties.
Sudan registered 127 confirmed polio cases in 2004. During the first half of 2005, some 27 cases were reported, bringing the total number of cases to 154.
Polio ("poliomyelitis") is caused by a virus that enters the body orally and infects the intestinal lining. It may proceed to the bloodstream and the central nervous system, causing muscle weakness, paralysis and in some cases permanent deformity of the limbs
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