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Child Health Week to reach 3 million children across the country

© UNICEF Mozambique/ T.Delvigne-Jean
A young girl, held by her brother, receives deworming medicine at the vaccination post of Mairen Ngouabi, during the 2008 Child Health Week campaign.

Maputo, May 2009 – A nationwide Child Health Week taking place from 18 to 22 May 2009 will provide, over five days, a package of health interventions including vitamin A supplementation, vaccination and nutrition screening to more than 3 million children under five years.

The Child Health Week approach is part of an accelerated child survival and development strategy which aims to deliver a package of basic interventions proven to be highly effective in reducing mortality rates and improving child health. These week-long campaigns complement routine health services by ensuring that basic services reach all children – wherever they live, even the most remote communities – through fixed health units and mobile brigades. 

In rural areas of Mozambique, where vulnerable populations may not have easy access to health services, Child Health Weeks provide a way to reach families who have missed on routine immunisation services.

“During this week we expect that all parents take their children to the nearest health centre to receive this basic package of health services,” said Roberto De Bernardi, UNICEF’s Chief of Health and Nutrition.

Routine immunisation coverage in Mozambique covers up to 80 per cent of the population, but a big gap remains between rural and urban areas – 82 per cent of children living in urban areas are fully immunised against only 46 per cent in rural communities. Similarly, children in poor households are half as likely to be fully vaccinated as children in wealthy households.

The most recent data available indicates that 69 per cent of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency affects growth, impairs vision, and reduces resistance to a wide range of infections and ailments, such as the measles virus, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.
 
Malnutrition is also associated with half of all children’s deaths in the country. The nutrition screening during the National Child Health Week aims to identify children with acute malnutrition and refer them to the nearest health centre for treatment.

© UNICEF Mozambique/ T.Delvigne-Jean
To keep track of children who were immunized against measles, the little finger of the right hand of a vaccinated child is marked with indelible ink at the vaccination post of Mairen Ngouabi, during the 2008 Child Health Week campaign.

Reaching the hard-to-reach is perhaps the most daunting challenge in a country like Mozambique, where 70 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, with little or no access to radio or television.

No effort has been spared to spread the word about the campaign. In the lead up to the campaign, TV and radio spots have been broadcast on major networks and community radios and thousands of posters and banners have been posted in churches, schools and hospitals. And as the campaign days dawned, community activists across the country announced the campaign through the streets, markets and public places while thousands of others roamed around the vaccination posts during the campaign to send mothers and their children to be vaccinated.

Despite reduction in the under-five mortality rate in the past five years, Mozambique still has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world – 168 per 1000 live births. Of an estimated 715,000 new born children every year, about 69,000 will die before reaching age one and an additional 29,000 will die before reaching age five.

Even children who survive beyond their fifth birthday face a barrage of diseases, rendered all the more dangerous due to malnutrition. The majority of deaths in children under the age of 5 years are due to a small number of common, preventable and treatable conditions, such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malnutrition and neonatal conditions.

This week’s campaign complements two Child Health Weeks held in 2008, which reached about 3.5 million children under five with vitamin A, deworming, screening for nutrition, measles vaccination and iodine supplementation, bringing the country closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

 

 
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