Massive immunisation campaign underway
By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa
2010 - Five million children in Zimbabwe below 15 years will, from Monday, be vaccinated against measles during the largest national Child Health Days in Zimbabwe. Emphasis on this year’s child health days is on measles vaccination, a move necessitated by a mounting measles outbreak that has claimed nearly 400 lives from over 7 000 recorded cases.
Speaking at the launch of the vaccination campaign, UNICEF Representative, Dr. Peter Salama said this year’s campaign comes when the country is grappling with challenges in many socio economic fronts, particularly in the area of health where immunisation coverage has significantly fallen from above 80 % to below 50%. In addition, maternal mortality has tripled since 1990.
“Limited central funds to support services, has seen 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 the remote areas
The national Child Health Days initiative is a 10 day intensive countrywide campaign during which children under the age of fifteen will be reached with vital vaccination against measles. Now in their sixth consecutive year, Child Health Days have played a significant role in raising immunisation rates and boosting child survival efforts in Zimbabwe. The days will not only allow mothers to take their children for measles vaccination and Vitamin ‘A’ supplementation, but also give them a chance to catch up on the routine vaccination against polio, diphtheria, pertusis and tetanus.
More than US$ 8 million has been committed to ensure adequate vaccines, logistics and staff are in place for a smooth supply chain of vaccines to reach even the most remote populations. The international donor community including the Consolidated Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), the Government of Japan; DFID; ECHO, Canada and The Netherlands have contributed to this important campaign as well ongoing routine immunisation programmes.
World health Organisation Representative, Dr. Custodia Mandlhate called on all stakeholders to join hands in the ensuring the eradication and elimination of diseases.
“We are calling for strong engagement and deep involvement of all stakeholders. Let us all join hands and renew our commitements as a caring society, caring nation.”
Social mobilisation and community outreach activities have been intensified to prompt parents to bring children to the designated points. Immunisation points have been set up at all hospitals, clinics, community centres, churches and schools while outreach facilities have been established to bring immunisation to the door step of hard to reach areas.
Back to a 'golden era'
Past child health days helped push immunization coverage in Zimbabwe to over 80% and had ultimately helped in reducing child mortality from vaccine preventable diseases. Dr. Salama highlighted that despite the reversal of past successes in health delivery in Zimbabwe, there is still optimism to restore the health delivery service of the country.
“There are huge opportunities for us to ‘Build Back better’ to the Golden Era of Zimbabwe, where public health reached every mother and child with vital services for free”, said Dr. Salama, “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."
Led by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and supported by UNICEF, WHO and Hellen Keller International, the national child health days are an important strategy towards life-saving, low-cost and high-impact support towards reducing child illnesses and deaths in Zimbabwe. A total country mobilization has been conducted with communities, political, traditional, local and religious leaders; private sector; civil society organizations; UN agencies; and the Media. The child health days are part of the country’s ongoing efforts at Accelerated Child Survival and Development through provision of a package of interventions that include child and newborn care through elimination of vaccine preventable diseases and high vitamin A coverage; prevention of HIV; prevention and response to diarrhoeal diseases; and safe motherhood.