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Zambia’s far-reaching measles campaign declared a success

© UNICEF Zambia/2007
A child receives a measles immunization shot at a community health clinic in Mpkia District, Northern Province, Zambia.

NEW YORK, 31 October 2007 – In a breakthrough for the fight to curb measles in Zambia, more than 2.1 million children under the age of five were recently immunized against the disease during the country’s latest national measles campaign.

The achievement of virtually total immunization coverage was celebrated today in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, at a gathering of all the partners that helped to coordinate the measles effort – including UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health.

The preceding campaign in 2003 significantly contributed to reduction in the disease, but Zambia needed to conduct a follow-up campaign to sustain these gains. Before 2003, measles was one of the five major causes of childhood illness in the country.

The recent campaign, conducted in July, was part of an integrated Child Health Week that also provided other interventions to protect young children from disease and undernutrition.

© UNICEF Zambia/2007
In addition to measles immunization, growth monitoring was part of Zambia's Child Health Week; here, a young child is weighed.

In addition to a shot of the measles vaccine, children received vitamin A supplements to boost their immunity. Children aged one to five were given de-worming tablets, and close to half a million parents and other caretakers had their bednets re-treated with insecticide for malaria control.

Reaching those most at-risk

“Zambia has a vulnerable child population,” said its UNICEF Representative, Lotta Sylwander, in a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio this week. “They are very poor and have difficulty reaching care,” she added.

Ms. Sylwander went on to note that Zambian children suffer from high rates of malnutrition and are affected by a high level of HIV prevalence in the country.

And Zambia’s geography compounds the challenges, Ms. Sylwander explained. “This is a vast country with a relatively small population, so it’s very hard to access everyone,” she said. “So this Child Health Week was preceded by a massive information campaign – and that was hugely successful because so many children and families came out.”

© UNICEF Zambia/2007
UNICEF Representative Lotta Sylwander receives a Certificate of Excellence and Life-saving Partnership from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Simon Miti.

A life-saving partnership

This year’s massive nationwide immunization campaign was organized by the country’s Ministry of Health, with support and funding from UNICEF, WHO and other participants in what came to be called the 'Life-saving Partnership against Measles’.

The coalition mobilized thousands of local volunteers to help ensure the success of the campaign. The Child Health Week itself followed several weeks of preparation to pre-position immunization supplies across the country from as far away as UNICEF’s main supply warehouse in Copenhagen.

"These were strong partnerships, and without any of these actors, we couldn’t have done it,” said Ms. Sylwander.

Despite this successful effort, however, the measles fight is far from over.

“Children are born all the time. We must try to capture the new kids in a new campaign,” said Ms. Sylwander. “We shouldn’t be complacent. If we keep reminding the government and ourselves of measles’ importance, we could have zero cases in a few years.”




30 October 2007:
UNICEF Representative in Zambia Lotta Sylwander talks to UNICEF Radio about the country’s recent successful measles campaign.
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