Address by Dr. Peter SalamaUNICEF Representative
Occassion:- 2010 Child Health Days and National Immunisation Campaign - Zimbabwe National Stakeholder Consultative Conference on Measles and Vaccine Preventable Disease
Rainbow Towers Hotel
Honourable Minister of Health and Child Welfare – Honourable Dr. Henry Madzorera
World Health Organisation Representative, Dr Custodia Mandhlate
Leaders of the Religious Groups represented here
Senior Government Officials
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Colleagues from the United Nations
Members of Civil Society and Private Sector
Members of the Media
It is a great honour to be among all of you as we dialogue and try to chart a new way to build consensus on the very important topic of child health, survival and development.
Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the inclusive government of Zimbabwe and in particular the Prime Minister’s Office for your leadership in hosting the inaugural consultative conference with faith based organisations and churches to dialogue, listen, learn and share information on how we can work together to accelerate child survival in Zimbabwe. Allow me to also thank the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, as well as the intersectoral Task Forces that worked so hard in the preparations of this historic faith-based consultative conference.
For UNICEF, the survival of children and the pursuit of their welfare lies at the heart of everything we do. We believe that every child has the right to grow to adulthood in health, peace, and dignity. I genuinely believe that we share this mission and vision with every person, parent and leader sitting in this room. If indeed we recognise and are guided by this very real and common goal that we share, that of seeing our children live, grow and thrive, I am certain that our dialogue will be fruitful.
Ladies and Gentlemen: This national stakeholder consultative conference comes at a critical time. It comes when Zimbabwe is grappling with a myriad of challenges on many socio economic fronts and in the area of health in particular. In 2008 and 2009, Zimbabwe saw its worst recorded cholera outbreak with around 100,000 cases and 4000 deaths. The underlying causes of that outbreak was of course the chronic lack of investment and subsequent deterioration in the water and sanitation infrastructure. Now we are seeing the result of a chronic lack of investment and deterioration in the health infrastructure. In recent years the coverage of routine immunisation has dropped significantly from over 80% to less than 50%. Since September 2009, this has resulted in a major outbreak of measles with more than 7000 recorded cases and nearly 400 registered deaths.
We are gathered here today to find a solution to the crisis of the moment, this raging outbreak of measles. We must find such solutions urgently and I believe that together we will. But beyond this outbreak and other recent outbreaks, today and every day in Zimbabwe more than 100 children die before reaching the age of 5, mostly of entirely preventable causes. While in most countries in the world, children are surviving in greater numbers than in the past, in Zimbabwe, the rate of deaths among children less than 5 has actually gone up by around 20% since 1990. It is often said that within every crisis there lies a hidden opportunity. I hope that we can use the opportunity afforded to us by today’s crisis to engage in, not only a dialogue on measles and immunization but also a broader and more robust dialogue aimed at addressing the more silent crisis facing children in Zimbabwe. It is a crisis of HIV, diseases of the newborn, and other simple and preventable killers such as pneumonia and diarrhea.
But despite all the problems, there are many signs of hope for Zimbabwe’s children today. Water in all the major urban centres is once again safe to drink, social welfare programmes such as BEAM which pays for school fees and levies for orphans are being revitalized, and a full set of textbooks and learning materials is on the way for every child in the country. Indeed, building upon these positive developments and the excellent efforts of the Minister of Health and his senior management team, Honourable Prime Minister, perhaps the time is right to launch a Partnership for Child Survival in Zimbabwe. Together we would need to define the core principles for such a partnership. First, it would need to be truly inclusive, involving the Inclusive Government, UN agencies such as UNICEF and WHO, civil society, donors, the media and the private sector, traditional leaders and all religious communities. Second, the programmes and services supported would need to be evidence based and cost-effective. We know for example that a simple package targeting the prevention of the main childhood killer diseases could have a dramatic impact in Zimbabwe.
Such a preventative package would need to include the scaling-up of the following: safe water and sanitation, the promotion of hand-washing with soap, early and exclusive breastfeeding, the prevention of maternal to child transmission of HIV, prevention of newborn disorders through simple measures such as keeping the newborn child dry and warm, oral rehydration salts for preventing dehydration when children have diarrhea, insecticide treated bed-nets for prevention of malaria and immunization for prevention of vaccine preventable diseases. Third, the partnership would need to be based on dialogue and on respect-respect for the views of all partners, including the religious communities and most importantly, respect for the views of the children themselves. And finally, the partnership would need to recognize that no matter what our religious beliefs or denominations or indeed our party or political affiliations, that we all have an urgent moral imperative to reduce these unnecessary child deaths.
Let me once again, reiterate UNICEF’s full and unreserved commitment to support the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and the Inclusive Government as a whole, as well as all the partners supporting these efforts to respond to this measles outbreak and the other child survival challenges facing Zimbabwe. As we scale-up our joint efforts to make the lives of the children of Zimbabwe healthier and happier, we know that we could not be working for a more noble cause.