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Mozambique holds its largest ever immunization campaign

© UNICEF video
A boy in Mozambique is vaccinated against measles in the country’s biggest mass vaccination campaign, which aims to eradicate the disease.

By Sarah Crowe

LIONDE, Gaza Province, Mozambique, 8 September 2005 – From dusty rural villages to exotic tourist towns, the sounds of children screaming in shock after a short jab from a needle, echoed through Mozambique this week as more than two million children lined up in the biggest ever mass immunization campaign in the country.

The last campaign in 1998 - 1999 had limited coverage and limited success, reaching only under-fives and children living in provincial and district capitals. This time round all children under 15 years of age must be reached in the campaign, which aims to eliminate measles – the most contagious disease known to man. 

Routine immunization in Mozambique reaches seventy-seven per cent of the 8.7 million child population, but to eliminate measles, routine vaccination coverage needs to reach ninety-five per cent. Many children missed out during the 20 years of civil war – which lasted from 1970 to 1990 in this former Portuguese colony – making this ‘catch-up’ measles campaign vital.

A boost of vitamin A

The Mozambican Ministry of Health decided to add polio vaccination and vitamin A supplements to boost the immune system for under-fives. UNICEF supported the campaign with 9.7 million doses of measles vaccines, 11.2 million auto-disposable syringes, 500 cold boxes, 5,500 vaccine carriers and 3.7 million vitamin A capsules.

© UNICEF Mozambique/2005/Crowe
Famous runner and Olypmic gold medal winner Maria Mutola lent her image to help publicise the vaccination campaign.

Older children like orphaned brothers Abel, 12, and Lionel, 14, had to reluctantly join the queue – a cacophony of crying babies –  in Lionde, Gaza Province. And even Lionel flinched as the long needle dug into his flesh.

“The activists came to our home and told us we had to come to be vaccinated against measles, but I was afraid. It was sore,” says Lionel.

Up to now Mozambique was the only country in the region missing out on a mass immunization drive; all its neighbours have already had such campaigns.

Local celebrity draws families to campaign

Since April this year, when the President Armando Guebuza kicked off the mass social mobilization effort, activists like Vukoxa, the national branch of Help Age – which advocates for disadvantaged older people worldwide and is supported by UNICEF - were going out into villages throughout the length and breadth of the country getting the word out about the campaign. Mass media, community radio and local celebrities were all used to make sure no child was left out.

World-famous runner Maria Mutola was a huge drawing card for the campaign – her winning image adorned the vaccination cards. Her involvement has been a big boost in helping to get the country up to speed with its vaccination targets.

“Children really look up to me, so it’s very important for to tell them that they must be vaccinated,” Maria Mutola said in Maputo, the capital.
In a country prone to emergencies from huge floods – as in 2000 and 2002 – to ongoing drought, mass vaccination of children against measles is vital in avoiding outbreaks of epidemics. Many illnesses – malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition – plague Mozambique’s children, and child mortality rates are some of the highest in the world – 178 out of 1000 children. This campaign makes for one less disease for parents to worry about.




9 September 2005:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports from Mozambique on efforts to eradicate measles with a mass immunization campaign throughout the country.

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