7 March 2005 Warning that an additional 12,000 Nepalese children could die annually without access to vaccines, Vitamin A and de-worming drugs held up in a transport shutdown, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called on all parties in the conflict in the Himalayan kingdom to help facilitate supplies.
“It is vital that these supplies reach remote areas as soon as possible,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said of the mountainous country where the Government and Maoist rebels have been fighting for nearly a decade and King Gyanendra last month dismissed the Government and declared a state of emergency.
“Both sides need to put the health of Nepal’s children first, and allow the national distribution of Vitamin A capsules and de-worming tablets to 3.3 million children to take place as scheduled in April,” she added.
Without the twice-yearly Vitamin A distribution in Nepal, it is estimated that some 12,000 children annually would succumb to diseases they would otherwise survive. About half of Nepalese children are stunted and malnourished. Intestinal worm infections, a chronic problem, further reduce the amount of iron they absorb, leaving them weak and anaemic.
“Similarly, measles has been killing some 5,000 children annually,” Ms. Bellamy said. “It’s essential the national measles vaccination programme can continue in April, when the weather warms, to reach children in the final seven mountainous districts.”
Life is a fragile threshold for thousands of Nepal’s children. Each day, nearly 200 children under five die from illnesses such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, despite national vaccination and vitamin distribution campaigns. Almost 70,000 die each year from preventable causes.
Ms. Bellamy also noted that the conflict is robbing children of their right to education. “Schools have been closed, attacked, bombed, mined, turned into barracks and their playgrounds dug with trenches,” she said. “Teachers and students have been killed, detained and threatened. Thousands of students have been marched away for political indoctrination sessions...some don’t return.
“It is a tragedy for a country and its children when those at war allow conflict to enter into the classroom. Schools must be left as safe havens for learning and playing.”