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UNICEF launches Child Health Days in Zimbabwe

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2005/Musundire
Chipo Mafukidze and her children return home after receiving much-needed vitamin A supplements and insecticide-treated nets.

By Mordekai Musundire

KARIBA, Zimbabwe, 8 August 2005 - It was a good day for Chipos Mafukidze, a 22-year-old mother of two. First, both her children received a vitamin A supplement. Then they were given a bed net to prevent mosquitoes biting…and spreading malaria. Neither of Chipo’s children had ever received Vitamin A before, and her eldest – who is just three – is only now recovering from a bout of malaria.

Chipo has just been to Kariba Heights Hospital, in far northern Zimbabwe, with three-month-old daughter Tatenda wrapped on her back and three-year-old son Farai in hand. She was one of 15,000 pregnant women and children who were beneficiaries of UNICEF’s first round of Child Health Days in Zimbabwe.

Addressing children’s pressing health needs

The past five years in Zimbabwe have seen increased resistance of malaria parasites to drugs. Additionally, significant numbers of people have moved within the country, relocating from malaria-free areas to malaria-endemic areas due to resettlement or economic emigration. Because these people have no built-in immunity to malaria, epidemics occur with increasing frequency - and fatality - especially amongst children and pregnant women.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2005/Musundire
The children sleep under an insecticide-treated net, which helps prevent malaria.

The Kariba campaign aims to reach 15,000 children and pregnant women from all corners of the remote district. Each family will be provided with a new-generation insecticide-treated bed net (ITN) and vitamin A supplements for eligible children. The campaign is a key part of the country’s Child Health Days, launched by the Ministry of Health and UN agencies to reach all under-five children.

The campaign comes at a critical time, as Zimbabweans face challenges on multiple fronts. Less than ten per cent of Zimbabwe’s children are adequately protected with vitamin A, and UNICEF and the Ministry of Health aim to increase this to at least 60 per cent by the end of this year.

The Kariba campaign is a partnership between the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, with critical funds from the Canadian International Development Agency, the UK’s DFID, and the Norwegian Government Hundreds of health workers have been trained, a sustained drive to inform parents of the importance of taking part organised, and thousands of man-hours logged in overcoming the logistical challenges of fuel shortages, remoteness and local capacity.

As she laments increasingly difficult times in Zimbabwe, Chipo clutches her newly acquired insecticide treated net, saying “It couldn’t have come at a better time.

“My mother gave me a net a long time ago when I was still at school, so it had holes in it. My son Farai was very sick in January, but with this new mosquito net I do not have to worry because I know my children are safe,” she says.

Through this and other ongoing campaigns, UNICEF aims to reach 60 per cent ITN coverage in Zimbabwe, far above the current level of seven per cent for children under five and 10.5 per cent for pregnant women.

The nets distributed are the most advanced available in the world and will last five years. Unlike previous nets, these will not need re-treating with insecticide. “It’s a tremendous advancement and one that Zimbabweans can now enjoy,” said UNICEF’s head of health in Zimbabwe, Dr. Juan Ortiz. “At this stage the Kariba Campaign is looking like a stand-out success, but we must now go nationwide.”

The second round of Zimbabwe’s Child Health Days is set for November and December later this year.



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