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Saving young lives: Zimbabwe’s health system struggles to cope

© UNICEF/Zimbabwe/2004
Child holding an immunization card

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 7 October 2004 – For the last 8 years, Wendy Poppie has worked at Kahobo clinic, in the remote part of Gokwe North in Western Zimbabwe.

Mothers bring their children long distances to the clinic in order for them to get their immunization card filled. “People understand the importance of immunization and they are coming with their children. The problem we have is the supply of vaccines,” said Wendy.

Zimbabwe once prided itself on its high immunization coverage.  It was one of many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa which were able to finance their own supplies of vaccines. But by 2002, the government of Zimbabwe could not longer cover the costs of this essential service, due to the country’s economic woes. As a result, basic immunization coverage (protection against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus) fell from 83 per cent in 1995 to 58 per cent in 2002.

Child health gains are being eroded

Compounding the problem is the shortage of qualified health workers. It has always been difficult to recruit workers for isolated clinics. In the last couple of years, this has become even more difficult, since many trained medical staff are leaving Zimbabwe. This has created a crisis in the delivery of health services. Gains in immunization and many other health programmes are being reversed.

In addition to this reduction in caring capacity, other serious threats to children’s survival in Zimbabwe include malnutrition and poor feeding practices, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the AIDS orphan crisis (the increasing number of children being affected by HIV/AIDS).

The net impact of these crises is alarming: In Zimbabwe, under-five mortality rates have steadily risen during the last decade as the significant gains made in child health in the 1980s are being eroded.

Wendy Poppie and her team at the Kahobo clinic, like others throughout this country, are committed to serving the people of their community. As the health system struggles to cope, more support is needed to help them to do their jobs effectively, save lives and reverse the trend of increasing child mortality.

Responding to the crisis

UNICEF (as the lead agency) and partners are developing a consolidated appeal to find support for immunization programmes. In addition, the organization is working to improve nutrition through strengthening nutritional surveillance, in order to ensure that children can be receive the interventions they need most. UNICEF has supported the training of more than 200 health workers on HIV issues and counselling for infant feeding.

Read more about UNICEF in action in Zimbabwe.




6 October 2004: Challenges to rural health in Zimbabwe

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