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2006 FIFA World Cup

Angolan World Cup players back child immunization drive

© UNICEF Angola video 2006
Angolan striker Pedro Mantorras (left) and team captain Fabrice Akwa promote Angola's upcoming immunization drive in national TV spots.

By Brigitte Stark-Merklein

LUANDA, Angola, 21 June 2006 – With excitement about the 2006 FIFA World Cup at a peak, Angolan star players are among the most recognizable role models here, inspiring a sense of achievement much appreciated in this war-ravaged country.

And while the national team faced disappointment on the pitch in Germany today, a successful World Cup debut is only one of the goals they have been striving to reach.

In early July, the government will launch an intensive campaign to free Angola from child killer diseases. In the spirit of the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE FOR PEACE campaign, star players Fabrice Akwa, Pedro Manuel Mantorras, Antonio Lebo Lebo and Joao Jamba are taking to the airwaves to encourage citizens to participate in the immunization drive.

Red card for measles

Using the soccer field as a metaphor, the TV spots show star strikers kicking out polio while football nets keep out mosquitoes. Measles get a red card for foul play.

The spots, co-sponsored by the Angolan Football Federation, are “a perfect example of how sports, in particular football, can be used as a platform for social mobilization,” said the Chief of Programme Communications at UNICEF Angola, Jose Paulo de Araujo. “These players are role models for men and women of all ages and have the power to convince parents to get their children immunized.”


© UNICEF Angola/2006/Stark-Merklein
Lucrécia Sakwila and her malaria-stricken son in Luena Hospital, Moxico Province, Angola.

Called ‘Viva a Vida com Saúde’ (Enjoy a healthy life), the nationwide campaign will be held between 5 and 26 July and will immunize more than 3.6 million children under five against measles and polio.

The children will also receive Vitamin A supplements and de-worming medicine to improve their nutritional status and boost resistance against diseases. In addition, 800,000 mosquito nets will be distributed as protection against malaria, the number-one child killer in Angola.

Polio resurgence

Though Angola reported its most recent case of polio in November 2005, the urgency of the campaign is underscored by a sudden reappearance of polio in neighbouring Namibia and Democratic Republic of Congo in early June. According to the World Health Organization, the virus may have come from Angola.

The immunization drive is part of a strategic government plan to reach the two Millennium Development Goals aiming to reduce maternal mortality and under-five mortality rates.

Angola’s rates are currently among the highest in the world: Lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 7, compared to 1 in 29,800 in Sweden, and the under-five mortality rate is 260 per 1,000.

© UNICEF Angola/2006/Stark-Merklein
Social mobilizers figure out logistics for the immunization campaign in Moxico Province.

Complex campaign

Far from the buzz around the 2006 FIFA World Cup, teams of social mobilizers and health workers gathered recently in each of the 164 municipalities in Angola’s 18 provinces to figure out campaign logistics.

In Luena, one of the provincial capitals, planners in a stuffy government meeting room punched numbers into calculators until late into the night. They were counting numbers of mobilizers and vaccinators needed, distances to be travelled, quantities of syringes, vaccines and cotton balls, and, of course, the number of children to be reached.

“I have participated in every immunization campaign the country has had in the last years, but none was this complex,” said Vitorina Soi Mariano of the Provincial Health Directorate. “The mosquito nets, for example, can’t just be distributed,” she explained. “People also have to be told how to use them correctly.”

Footballers as advocates

A visit to Luena Hospital illustrates the urgency of malaria prevention. “During the raining season from September to March, we admit around 30 malaria cases every day,” said the head of the Emergency Unit, Martins Matchica. “Around 80 per cent of them are children under five.”

Four-month old Ismael Gabriel was lucky. His 19-year-old mother Lucrécia Sakwila brought him to the Emergency Unit as soon as he developed a fever, diarrhoea and vomiting, typical symptoms of malaria. He has been in Luena hospital for a week and is finally getting better. According to his mother, the baby never slept under a mosquito net.

“People like Ms. Sakwila are the audience we want to reach,” said UNICEF Angola’s Mr. de Araujo. “And we couldn’t have better advocates than the football stars.”



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