Zimbabwe

Massive measles vaccination campaign under way in Zimbabwe

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0829/Kun Li
A baby, held by his mother, cries as he receives a vaccine injection at a mobile outreach point in Zimbabwe's Masvingo District during the country's 2009 measles immunization drive.

By Tapuwa Mutseyekwa

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 24 May 2010 – In Zimbabwe this week, a huge programme to vaccinate 5 million children against measles, dubbed the national Child Health Days initiative, is kicking off.

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A growing outbreak of measles in this southern African nation has claimed nearly 400 lives, and 7,000 cases of the dangerous disease have been recorded recently. Zimbabwe and the world are banking on the immunization campaign to reverse that disturbing trend.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama said this year’s Child Health Days come as the country grapples with many social challenges, especially in health. Immunization coverage has plummeted in Zimbabwe, and now only about 60 per cent of all children receive the life-saving measles vaccine.

Limited central funds to support immunization have led to “a marked deterioration in service delivery across the country,” said Dr. Salama. “This state of affairs, we are aware, has dramatically reduced access to services for those who need them the most.”

Reaching remote areas

The 10-day national Child Health Days initiative, now in its sixth year, targets children under the age of 15. In addition to measles vaccinations, the intensive campaign will also provide children with vital immunization against polio, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.

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© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2010/Mutseyekwa
A child at a clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe is given a measles vaccination.

The effort is being led by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, and is supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the non-governmental organization Helen Keller International.

The government is providing vaccines, logistics and a mobile, nationwide staff capable of reaching the most remote populations in Zimbabwe. The international donor community has contributed significant resources to this campaign, as well as ongoing routine immunization in the country. Donors include the Consolidated Emergency Relief Fund, the European Commission and the Governments of Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

Social mobilization

Also speaking during the Child Health Days launch, WHO Representative Dr. Custodia Mandlhate called on all stakeholders to work together to rid Zimbabwe of preventable diseases.

“We are calling for strong engagement and deep involvement,” said Dr. Mandlhate. “Let us all join hands and renew our commitments as a caring society, caring nation.”

Throughout Zimbabwe, social mobilization and community outreach activities are being ramped up, and parents are being told to bring their children to designated vaccination points at hospitals, clinics, community centres, churches and schools. Meanwhile, mobile outreach teams have been established to bring immunizations door-to-door in remote areas.

Back to a ‘golden era’

UNICEF’s Dr. Salama said he has high hopes that the massive push will help re-establish Zimbabwe as a leader in public health in southern Africa. There was a time when more than 80 per cent of children were vaccinated here, and Dr. Salama believes Child Health Days can help bring back that era of good health.

“There are huge opportunities for us to build back better the golden era of Zimbabwe, where public health reached every mother and child with vital services for free,” he said. “But this process of building back better is not for one agency, department, ministry, sector or even a single community. It requires a collective effort and responsibility.”


 

 

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24 May 2010: UNICEF correspondent Nina Martinek reports on a campaign to vaccinate 5 million children against measles, in conjunction with the National Child Health Days initiative in Zimbabwe.
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