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Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Azerbaijan cellist's gift of vaccines
Celebrated cellist and composer Mstislav Rostropovich
Rostropovich: "An emotional moment"
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By the BBC's Chloe Arnold in Baku

The celebrated cellist and composer Mstislav Rostropovich has returned to his native Azerbaijan, bringing more than a million dollars' worth of vaccines to the country's disadvantaged children.

The vaccines will protect children from Hepatitis B.

Mr Rostropovich said he was proud to be bringing vaccines to the children of Azerbaijan on the occasion of his 75th birthday.

Children in Azerbaijan
Up to 7% of the population suffers from Hepatitis B
The world renowned cellist, who is one of the directors of the Vaccine Fund, presented the medication President Haidar Aliyev, at the Khotaimsky Maternity Hospital in Baku.

The pair then watched as a nurse inoculated a 10-hour-old infant with one of the vaccines.

Mr Rostropovich said it was a very emotional moment for him, bringing tears to his eyes and expressing love to the child from the whole world.

Hepatitis B is considered to be endemic in Azerbaijan, where between 4% and 7% of the population suffers from the disease.

Delayed benefits

The Health Ministry of Azerbaijan says it aims to immunise 80% of new-born babies against Hepatitis B by the end of the year.

The disease causes inflammation of the liver and leads to chronic illness or death.

"We will see the first results probably in eight to 10 years," said Jacques-Francois Martin, chairman of the Vaccine Fund.

"That's according to the history we have in other countries - it's the time you need to measure concretely the impact and you will see a decrease in the liver cancers which are due to Hepatitis B," he said.

Mr Rostropovich, who left Azerbaijan when he was five to study music in Moscow, has also brought instruments to children at Baku's Music College.

On Sunday evening he will take part in a concert to celebrate his 75th birthday.

See also:

23 Aug 01 | G-I
Hepatitis B
15 Jan 02 | Health
Gates' vaccination drive attacked
26 Feb 02 | Europe
Timeline: Azerbaijan
26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Azerbaijan
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