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Zambia’s Child Health Week reaches out to over 2 million with life-saving interventions

© UNICEF/2009/Inzy
Hundreds of mothers brought their children for free vaccinations and other medical services during the launch of Child Health Week in Zambia.

By Patrick Slavin

M’TENDERE, Zambia, 28 July 2009 – With their young children wrapped in blankets and winter caps to protect them from the Southern Hemisphere's cold season, hundreds of Zambian mothers queued for hours one recent morning, waiting for lifesaving, free health care during the opening day of Zambia’s Child Health Week.

More than 2 million children were expected to be reached with life-saving health interventions like polio and measles vaccinations during this campaign, which has just concluded.

Unite for a healthier Zambia

“This is really impressive that there’s a big turnout, especially in such cold weather,” said Minister of Health Kapembwa Simbao. “I can assure you this is what it’s like at clinics all over our country today, and the turnout will be well attended all week.”

UNICEF Zambia Representative Lotta Sylwander encouraged parents and caregivers to bring all of their children under the age of five to Child Health Week for free medical care, including growth monitoring.

“This is extremely important for children in Zambia. By bringing your children to Child Health Week for free vaccinations, growth monitoring and Vitamin A supplementation, your children will be healthier and will live longer. So for your children’s future, please bring them to your nearest health centre,” said Ms. Sylwander.

Innovative HIV testing

The Officer-in-Charge of UNICEF Zambia’s Health Programme, Dr. Lastone Chitembo, said every year Child Health Week in Zambia offers a new and innovative service. He noted that this year, five clinics in Lusaka would offer early infant diagnosis of HIV as part of Child Health Week for the first time, with testing of children as young as six weeks of age.

© UNICEF/2009/Inzy
UNICEF Representative in Zambia Lotta Sylwander gives oral polio vaccine to a child during the first day of Child Health Week.

“If they test positive, the government and other partners will be able to provide the children with antiretrovirals so they can live longer. It’s part of UNICEF’s paediatric AIDS initiative,” said Mr. Chitembo.

SMS messages to parents 

Another innovative component of Zambia’s Child Health Week this year came from the country’s leading telecommunications mobile service providers, which sent free SMS messages to their customers, urging parents and caregivers to bring their children to vaccination sites.

“It is about time that we use modern technology to ensure child health, and this year is particularly important because of the polio prevention campaign,” said Ms. Sylwander. “We are grateful that MTN, ZAIN and Cell-Z have agreed to assist free of charge in sending mobile phone messages to millions of their subscribers.”

Earlier this month, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided UNICEF with support for Child Health Week in Zambia. 

“We are delighted to continue partnering with the Zambian Government in this effective and cost-efficient child survival programme,” said USAID Mission Director in Zambia Melissa Williams. 

Health and development

As always during Child Health Weeks, free medical services were provided to children under five. A special emphasis was placed on bringing polio vaccinations to every child in high-population centres, including Lusaka, Ndola and 28 districts that border neighboring Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Namibia.

Also during the week, in five high-volume health facilities, local drama groups promoted messages related to early testing for HIV and timely treatment through paediatric HIV programmes.

“Health programmes for children are vital to development,” said Ms. Williams. “An investment in health is an investment in economic development, poverty reduction, sustainable development and regional security.”



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