Parents in all the 164 Angolan municipalities will be encouraged to bring their children to the nearest municipal health centre for immunisation, vitamin A supplementation and deworming treatment. Some three million new-born and children under five years of age are being targeted and expected to benefit from this initiative. Around 350,000 women aged between 15 to 45 years will also be vaccinated against tetanus while both accompanying parents receive relevant information and educational materials on hygiene and health.
For the last two weeks, a major and far-reaching public-awareness campaign is saturating the airwaves reminding Angolan families they ought to take advantage of these life-saving days. Also, around 5000 health activists at the municipal level have been trained to accompany the process and spread the word throughout every single municipality.
Existing health centres throughout the country have been boosted with additional supplies to ensure maximum efficiency during this seven-day operation. Their organisational and delivery capacity has been strengthened and, in extremely remote areas where permanent health premises are still not available, temporary and mobile facilities have been set up to host visiting families. The planning capacity
As UNICEF Representative in Angola, Mario Ferrari says, “this initiative is a critical stepping stone towards reducing child mortality in post-war Angola. Such days also show that Angola’s health system is shifting from rather emergency oriented services to serving the long term health needs of the population.”
Child mortality in Angola is among the highest in the world as a result of malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, acute respiratory infections, measles and neonatal tetanus. The dramatic mortality rate (260 of every 1000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday) is a consequence of insufficient access to and poor quality of health services as well as inadequate family care practices among urban and rural communities.
The educational component of the intervention is also of extreme importance. “Parents need to be trained on early detection of symptoms to timely seek care for their children and understand that hygiene practices in the homes can often change the fate of children,” says Guy Clarysse, UNICEF Health Officer in Angola. At this stage of the intervention, relevant hygiene and health advice will be shared with the families visiting the health centres while future actions foresee more in-depth health education activities.
The intervention foresees the distribution of child health cards and the use of data collection forms in order to register children and ensure adequate immunization follow up. “The aim of these children’s health days is also to slowly create a bond between community members and their health service so that seeking health advice and care becomes part of the parent’s routine,” says Guy.
Contributions from the United Kingdom, United States, Canadian (The Micronutrient Initiative) and Swedish Governments have allowed UNICEF to organise this life-saving intervention. Other partners such as WHO and, on the ground, a number of local and international NGOs are collaborating to ensure a successful implementation.
The 2003 national measles campaign carried out by the Angolan Government and UNICEF established the foundations for this initiative. At the time, a total of more than seven million children were vaccinated against measles, the biggest vaccine-preventable killer of Angolan children. More than 10,000 health workers were trained and critical infrastructure for routine immunisation was re-established across Angola.
In 2005 and 2006 the children’s health weeks will alternate with already planned polio national immunisation days and a measles campaign. From 2007 onwards, similar weeks will be repeated periodically every six months.