|© UNICEF Mozambique/2009/Delvigne-Jean|
|To help keep track of measles immunizations during Mozambique’s Child Health Week, the little finger of a vaccinated child’s right hand is marked with indelible ink.|
MAPUTO, Mozambique, 26 May 2009 – Over five days, from 18 to 22 May, a nationwide Child Health Week provided a package of health interventions in Mozambique, bringing vitamin A supplements, vaccinations and nutrition screening to more than 3 million children under the age of five.
The Child Health Week approach is part of an accelerated child survival and development strategy, which aims to deliver a package of basic interventions proven to be highly effective in both reducing mortality rates and improving child health. These week-long campaigns complement routine health services by ensuring that basic care reaches all children – even those living in the most remote communities – through fixed health units and mobile brigades.
Particularly in rural areas of Mozambique, where vulnerable populations may not have easy access to health care, Child Health Weeks provide a way to reach the families who may have been missed by routine immunization services.
Urban-rural gap persists
“During this week, we expect that all parents take their children to the nearest health centre to receive this basic package of health services,” said UNICEF Mozambique Chief of Health and Nutrition Roberto De Bernardi.
Routine immunization coverage in Mozambique reaches about three-quarters of the population, but a big gap remains between rural and urban areas, with much lower coverage among children in the countryside. Similarly, children in poor households are much more likely to be fully vaccinated than children in wealthy households.
At the same time, the most recent available data indicate that more than two-thirds of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which affects growth, impairs vision and reduces resistance to a wide range of infections and diseases – such as measles, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.
Malnutrition is also associated with a significant percentage of all child deaths in the country. To address this problem, nutrition screenings during the recent Child Health Week identified children with acute malnutrition and referred them to the nearest health centre for treatment.
Spreading the word
Reaching the hard-to-reach is perhaps the most daunting challenge in a country such as Mozambique, where more than two-thirds of the population lives in rural areas, with little or no access to radio or television.
|© UNICEF Mozambique/2009/Delvigne-Jean|
|A young girl, held by her brother, receives de-worming medicine at a vaccination post in Mozambique.|
No effort was spared to spread the word about Child Health Week. In the lead-up to the campaign, TV and radio spots were broadcast on major networks and community radio stations, and thousands of posters and banners were posted in churches, schools and hospitals.
When the week began, community activists across the country announced the campaign in streets, markets and other public places, while thousands more fanned out around the vaccination posts to bring in mothers and their children for immunization.
Combating high mortality rates
Despite a reduction over the past five years, Mozambique still has one of the world’s highest mortality rates for children under five: 168 per 1,000 live births.
Even those who survive beyond their fifth birthday are threatened by a multitude of diseases, rendered all the more dangerous due to malnutrition. The majority of deaths in children under five are due to a small number of common, preventable and treatable conditions, such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malnutrition and neonatal conditions.
Mozambique’s recent Child Health Week complements two others held in 2008, which reached about 3.5 million young children. Taken together, these campaigns are bringing the country closer to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.