HARARE, 23 October 2003 - The British Department for International Development (DFID) pledged 1.88 million pounds to UNICEF Zimbabwe today to secure urgently needed vaccines and logistical support for the country’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) from January to June 2004. The funding comes at a time when the health system, once one of the best in the region, is deteriorating as the combination of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the economic crisis and the severe food shortages have left drugs and health workers in short supply and unable to cope with growing needs.
EPI, which from 1996 had been maintained by the Government of Zimbabwe, is now in urgent need of additional support to ensure vaccines; cold chain equipment and technical expertise are available to reach all children. Until 2001, immunization coverage for most antigens was over 70 percent but now coverage in some districts has dropped to 44 per cent and the number of children dying before their first birthday has increased from around 56 per 1,000 live births in 1999 to around 65 per live 1,000 births in 2000.
"“With more and more children weak from hunger and exposed to disease, immunization is crucial for their survival," said Festo Kavishe, UNICEF Representative, "We are grateful for this generous donation. It is vital we work together to guarantee that the gains made in immunization coverage during the last two decades are not lost."
In addition, six vehicles worth US$133,120 will be handed over by UNICEF to the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to support outreach services. The vehicles will be used by health workers in the rural districts to monitor health clinics and ensure they have the necessary vaccines and equipment to provide essential immunization. The vehicles, procured with funding from a $301,972 grant from CIDA, the Canadian International Development Association is part of this larger effort to maintain immunization coverage.
Last year, National Immunization Days for measles and Vitamin A succeeded in achieving coverage rates of 98 per cent and 90 per cent respectively. In July a mop up measles and Vitamin A campaign in 16 districts was conducted to maintain coverage. UNICEF and WHO, with support from DFID, CIDA, SIDA, The Government of the Netherlands, UNICEF UK and GAVI , have been working with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to maintain their capacity for vaccine monitoring and service delivery. This includes the procurement of vaccines, gas for the maintenance of the cold chain, fuel, syringes, safety boxes and training of health workers. So far between June 2002 and July 2003, UNICEF has received contributions of $1.5 million to maintain Zimbabwe’s EPI programme. The contribution from DFID secures the needed funding to continue immunization services till June 2004.
For more information, please contact:
Shantha Bloemen, Communications Officer, UNICEF Zimbabwe
Tel. No. 263 4 703941/42 Mob. 263 91 27 6120