|© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2007|
|The Child Health Days campaign will vaccinate 2 million Zimbabwean children against polio.|
By Tsitsi Singizi
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 28 June 2007 – On cue, the mothers clutch their babies and fall in with military precision. Vaccine cold boxes are lined up in the shade alongside them. Within a few minutes, a classroom has been transformed into an outreach immunization point for Zimbabwe’s biannual Child Health Days campaign.
The campaign will reach 2 million Zimbabwean children this week. All will receive a polio vaccination.
Child Health Days is an intensive campaign with $1 million spent on vaccines, logistics and staff time. Hundreds of health workers and volunteers have been trained and supported by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. Together they will conduct outreach activities, as children are protected from tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and polio.
Campaign gets underway
Elizabeth Chifuna, the Nursing Sister in charge in the classroom, braces herself for another busy afternoon. Yesterday the team of three immuniszed more than 3,000 children in eight hours. She wears a steady smile as she addresses the mothers in the queue, assuring the few who have misplaced their health cards that they will be attended to.
It is day three of the Child Health Days campaign and community mobilizers are chanting the gospel of immunization. Religious leaders echo the message, encouraging mothers to vaccinate their children.
Elizabeth Mandaza, who accompanies her grandson Edwin, is a firm believer in the gospel: “I have seen my children suffer the terrible measles. Another walks with a limp because of polio. I know immunization can save lives and I am happy now that Edwin will be immunized against all these illnesses.”
Health workers and community volunteers
Across the country, the determination of health workers and the immense generosity of the community volunteers in the Child Health Days campaign is evident at immunization posts, public health facilities, schools, township centres and churches.
On the other side of town, at Seke District Hospital just outside the capital, Nursing Sister Zuze gives the two drops of the oral polio vaccine to each child. Here the queue also snakes into the yard. “We are being overwhelmed by the response,” she says. “We have been starting the vaccination at 7:30 in the morning and finishing at 7 p.m. every day, but no one is missing out.”
The high demand, combined with the unflagging responsiveness of the health care workers and volunteers, will give Zimbabwe a critical boost in its effort to improve child survival and quell any potential polio threat.
Timing is critical
The Child Health Days come at a critical time, as families are under ever-greater pressure from record high inflation and unemployment. In terms of percentage of its population, Zimbabwe also has the highest number of orphans in the world.
“This campaign is a critical boost to health services that are under great stress in Zimbabwe,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “The nationwide campaigns are the single most important support towards reducing child illnesses and deaths in Zimbabwe.”
Past child health drives have proven the campaign method is highly successful. Recent campaigns have boosted vitamin A coverage from less than 10 per cent in 2005 to over 80 per cent today. Overall immunization coverage, which had dropped by almost 50 per cent, has once again reached 70 per cent. The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has also recorded a decline in measles and malaria cases.
However, there is still more to be done. The country must invest in the health delivery system and support those on the ground who, like Sisters Chifuna and Zuze, continue to defy hardships for the children of Zimbabwe.