Child Health Week reaches more than two million children in Malawi
By Felix Malamula
Lilongwe, 18 May 2011: The first round of the 2011 Child Health Week has just been completed and about 2.5 million children are expected to have been reached with Vitamin A supplementation and deworming. A similar campaign last year reached over 90 per cent of the targeted 3 million children.
The Child Health Week is an initiative through which the Government of Malawi, with the support of UNICEF and others, delivers high impact and low cost interventions to address common and chronic health issues affecting children. It is conducted twice a year across the country and delivers Vitamin A supplements and deworming tablets to children and information to mothers and caregivers on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, feeding children with foods rich in Vitamin A, washing hands with soap to avoid diarrhoea, and using insecticide treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. The Child Health Week is also an opportunity to monitor the use of iodised salt at household level by assessing salt samples for iodine content using a rapid test.
In Malawi, 60 per cent of under-five children suffer from Vitamin A deficiencies, a consequence of not eating foods rich in these essential vitamins. These children have a lower immunity and are more likely to die from such common childhood illnesses as diarrhoea, malaria, pneumonia and measles. Lack of vitamin A also leads to severe visual impairment.
At Mitundu Health Centre, located about 30 kilometres south east of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, the medical team deployed 56 Health Surveillance Assistants in strategic points to ensure that mothers do not walk long distances to access the services.
“For Mitundu, our plan was to reach out to about 19,000 children by the end of the campaign,” said Jerkins Banda, Senior Assistant Environmental Health Officer at Mitundu Health Centre. Banda is sure that the target will be met as most mothers turned up with their children.
UNICEF Micronutrient Officer Benson Kazembe is optimistic that the national targets will be met. “Since 2005 when Child Health Weeks started, we have been reaching more children than the 90 per cent target. We hope this will be the case this time round.”
Kazembe explains that the Child Health Days also benefit postpartum mothers who are within eight weeks of delivery. This year, over 140,000 were targeted.