LUSAKA, 26 August 2003 – In one of the biggest health campaigns in Zambia’s history, nearly 5 million children between the ages of 6 months and 14 years were successfully vaccinated against measles. During a Measles Campaign Awards ceremony on 21 August, the Minister of Health, Dr. Brian Chituwo, announced that 4,955,647 children had been immunized, representing coverage of 108 per cent (Target: 4,600,916). The National Measles Campaign, which was held from 7-13 June, is part of a larger global effort to halve the number of measles deaths by 2005.
Through the efforts of 17,710 committed volunteers at 3,795 vaccination posts, all types of transport were used, including bicycles, canoes and ox carts, to reach inaccessible rural areas. One of the major challenges of the campaign was to persuade resistant religious communities in remote parts of the country to vaccinate their children. This was possible due to the partnerships formed with traditional leaders, administrative authorities, the Church, NGO leaders, and the military.
For this campaign, the country embarked on an intensified strategy to save the lives of Zambia’s children by applying an integrated approach that also focuses on vitamin A supplementation, deworming and malaria prevention. As a result, 1,864,818 children between the ages of 6-59 months received vitamin A supplementation (Target: 1,713,923; Coverage: 109 per cent) and 1,650,491 children between the ages of 1-5 years were dewormed (Target: 1,528,745; Coverage: 108 per cent).
In Zambia, malaria, in addition to measles, is one of the major killers of children. Every year, approximately 60,000 Zambians die from malaria, 90 per cent are children under-5. A total of 75,000 Permanets were distributed after measles vaccination to every 6-59 month old child in five districts in Eastern and Northern Provinces. The Permanet bednets are preferred over ordinary nets as the insecticide coverage lasts for 2-3 years without retreatment. Consequently, more than 80 per cent of the households in the five districts received Permanets. Before the measles campaign, approximately 800,000 nets were in use in Zambia, representing coverage of 27 per cent.
Overall, the support for the National Measles Campaign was unprecedented. The major partners were the Ministry of Health/Central Board of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Home Affairs, religious organizations, NGOs, community-based organizations, media, Zambian Red Cross, International Federation of the Red Cross, CIDA, DFID, JICA, UN Foundation, UNICEF, USAID, WHO and The Right to Play. Private sector partners donated media messages and logistical and social mobilization support.
To galvanize support from all sectors and at all levels, advocacy meetings were held all over the country. As a result, a vibrant and visible national social mobilization campaign was developed. Athlete ambassadors recruited by The Right to Play, such as the famous Zambian football player, Kalusha Bwalya, reinforced key health messages on billboards and posters. In some areas, play stations were set up at the vaccination posts where children could play games that focused on the importance of immunization. The local media aired radio jingles and TV spots and the public was bombarded with information in various forms on the campaign. Inter-personal communication was particularly effective at community level.
Planning, strategic partnerships and efficient management of the mass immunization measles campaign were critical to its success, as well as a proactive approach to problems encountered during the campaign. Expressing her appreciation to the Government and partners, the UNICEF Representative, Dr. Stella Goings noted that:
“The National Measles Campaign is a major achievement for Zambia and will serve as an example for future health campaigns. It has laid the groundwork for accelerating measles control and ultimately reducing measles mortality. The challenge before us now is to maintain high coverage in Zambia through a strengthened routine immunization programme.”
For further information, please contact:
Edita Nsubuga, Communication Officer, UNICEF Zambia;
tel: 260 1 252055; fax: 260 1 253389;
cell: 260 97 759373; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eugenia Temba, Snr. Communication Assistant, UNICEF Zambia;
tel: 260 1 254265; fax: 260 1 253389;
cell: 260 97 846692; e-mail: email@example.com.