Subject: UNICEF: East Timor truce allows immunization
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:33:41 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

UNICEF Press Release

East Timor truce allows immunization

Friday, 16 July 1999: Despite escalating violence in East Timor in advance of the August referendum on the territory’s future, a little known 'truce' has been quietly observed this week allowing thousands of children to be immunized against potentially deadly childhood diseases.

Under a 'Truce for Children' initiative negotiated by UNICEF, factions fighting over whether East Timor should become independent from Indonesia are supporting 'weeks of tranquility' so that East Timorese children and women can safely access immunization and other health services.

The UNICEF-backed campaign began on 12 July, with 240 health workers fanning out across the territory to bring immunization services to local communities. During the first 'week of tranquility,' which ended today, the campaign targeted some 30,000 children in 114 villages where immunization coverage levels have fallen dangerously low in recent months due to security concerns.

The campaign aims to immunize all children under five years old and pregnant women in and will continue at a pace of one week per month for the next five months.

UNICEF staff monitoring the campaign’s opening days reported a strong turnout and no security incidents in villages where the immunization services are being offered.

Children are being immunized against the six major childhood diseases (tuberculosis, measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) at Posyandu (village-level integrated service posts), village halls and clinics operated by the Catholic Church. The immunization sites are also providing pregnant women with antenatal care, tetanus toxoid injections and iron tablets, while children 6-12 months old are receiving complementary food to help improve their nutritional status.

“This is a remarkable achievement for all the people of East Timor,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “For the first time in months, women and children are not afraid to leave their homes, and at the same time they are being provided with the health services they so desperately need. By supporting this initiative and working together, all parties in East Timor have shown that the rights of their children remain a priority.”

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia since the mid-1970s, has been racked by violence between pro- and anti-independence groups since Indonesia committed itself in May to the UN-supervised referendum.

Due to the mounting conflict, health services in East Timor have steadily deteriorated. Government doctors and other health workers have fled, many community health centres are no longer fully operational and remaining health workers are unwilling to make home visits. At the same time, parents have been afraid to bring their children to health facilities.

Stephen Woodhouse, the UNICEF Representative in Indonesia who helped to negotiate the agreement, said: "As a result of the hostilities, tens of thousands of East Timorese children under the age of five have not been immunized against the major childhood diseases, which greatly increases the chances for an outbreak of measles or other life-threatening illnesses.”

UNICEF was able to secure the agreement of all parties in East Timor, including the pro-independence and pro-integration movements, to the 'weeks of tranquility', as well as a promise to guarantee children and their families safe access to immunization sites and to promote the campaign among their followers.

UNICEF, which has been working in East Timor since 1992, is supporting the immunization campaign by providing technical and logistical assistance, training for health workers, auto-destruct syringes and other immunization supplies.

Also supporting the campaign are the government, military, police, non-government organizations and the leaders of East Timor’s Roman Catholic majority, including Nobel Laureate Carlos Ximenez Belo, who, in 'A Letter from the Church', called upon all families to bring their children in for immunization.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan termed the campaign “an admirable initiative, which will concretely demonstrate the commitment of the United Nations wherever there is suffering and need.”

Please email with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/1999/25.

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