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Botswana: Turning the tide against measles

MOLEPOLOLE, 4 October 2005 – As noted in UNICEF’s recent Progress For Children report, few things yield greater benefits for the health, wellbeing and survival of a child than immunization. This message is being imparted to communities around Botswana as a country-wide Measles and Vitamin A campaign gets underway to immunize all children aged between 9 months and 5 years of age. A collaboration of UNICEF, WHO, the Ministry of Health, Botswana/USA Partnership, Botswana Red Cross Society as well as faith-based organizations, the campaign will run from 3 – 7 October 2005.

According to UNICEF and WHO, measles remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among young children, with approximately 500,000 deaths in Sub Saharan Africa each year.

“Southern African countries including Botswana have used supplemental measles mass campaigns to rapidly reduce measles cases to near zero,” said Dr Jean A. Kalilani, WHO Country Representative during the launch of the campaign, in a joint statement by both UNICEF and WHO. “Since 2000, the routine measles immunization coverage has been above 80 percent.”

However, while the measles control strategy has been found to be very effective in Botswana, cases still occur. In July and August 2005, an outbreak of measles was reported in three districts and seven children tested positive for the virus.  The Ministry of Health was quick to contain the outbreak, well ahead of the ongoing campaign.

“Our country is striving to eliminate measles and has embarked actively on strategies to meet the objectives set for the country to eliminate measles,” said the Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou, as she launched the measles and Vitamin campaign on October 3. “Botswana, like other countries, continues to carry out the administration of routine childhood immunization to protect children against vaccine preventable diseases. This is a costly exercise to government as the services are provided free to the public, but it demonstrates government’s commitment to future generations.”

UNICEF Botswana has been instrumental in providing technical and financial support in the area of advocacy and social mobilization for the campaign. However, major public health priorities such as measles eradication call for strong strategic partnerships because of their nature and magnitude. In this regard, other international players such as the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have joined UNICEF and WHO in helping governments fight against measles. This is a long-term partnership, launched in February 2001, to control measles deaths in Africa by vaccinating 200 million children over five years.

During Botswana’s campaign, it is of utmost importance that all children aged between 9 months and five years be given a dose of the measles vaccine and Vitamin A supplementation. Vitamin A supplementation is done together with the administration of the measles vaccine to help maintain adequate levels of nutrients and to boost the child’s immune system. The vaccination will take place at all health facilities and other designated points around the country. It is expected that the campaign will reach 180,000 children.

For more information please contact:

Kutloano Leshomo, UNICEF Botswana, +267 3951 909, kleshomo@unicef.org

Moagi Gaborone, WHO Botswana, + 267 3971 505, gaboronem@bw.afro.who.int




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