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News note

Child Health Days reach Zimbabwe’s children and mothers at a critical time

UNICEF calls for the immediate lifting of the NGO ban

HARARE, 6 August 2008– Zimbabwe’s national biannual Child Health Days kicked off on Monday, with the aims of providing the country’s two million children (under-five) with essential Vitamin A supplementation and  catch-up immunization,  and of providing communities with life-saving information on nutrition and breastfeeding practices.

 “The nationwide campaigns are important life-saving, low-cost and high-impact support towards reducing child illnesses and deaths in Zimbabwe,” said UNICEF’s Acting Country Representative in Zimbabwe, Roeland Monasch. “The days are an essential boost to a health system under great stress and children made vulnerable by declining social services.”

The Child Health Days (CHDs) are led by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare in partnership with UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Helen Keller International. Past child health drives have demonstrated that this campaign method is highly successful. During the campaigns, UNICEF adequately funds social mobilization and provides health staff and volunteers with allowances and additional transport is provided for outreach activities.

The week-long US$ 1million campaign is supported by essential funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA) and UNICEF’s National Committee of the Netherlands.

During the campaign health workers and volunteers conduct outreach activities to schools, community centres and mobile clinics across the country. Children, even those in hard to reach areas, are immunised against tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza and polio.

UNICEF’s Regional Director Per Engebak, who was in Zimbabwe last week, reaffirmed that Child Health Days are pivotal for the well-being of Zimbabwean children. The agency, however, expressed serious concerns about the impact on children of the current ban prohibiting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from operating in communities. The ban, imposed on the 4th of June, has now been in effect for over two months.

“We applaud and are committed to efforts such as the Child Health Campaign, but we cannot forget that a growing number of children are suffering daily because of the NGO ban,” said Mr. Engebak. “Every day that such an important lifeline of humanitarian aid for children remains cut off, puts the children of this country at ever greater risk.”

Recent child health campaigns have boosted vitamin A coverage from less than 10 per cent in 2005 to over 80 per cent today. Overall immunization coverage, which had dropped by almost 50 per cent, has once again reached 70 per cent. The campaign in November 2007 reached 81per cent of the country’s children with polio vaccination and 80 per cent with Vitamin A supplementation.

The child health days are part of the country’s ongoing efforts to eliminate vaccine preventable diseases, maintain high vitamin A coverage and improve child survival across the country.

UNICEF continues to provide support to the Zimbabwe Expanded programme on Immunisation (ZEPI) in the procurement of vaccines for immunisation, cold chain equipment for vaccine storage and technical support to the health workers.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:
Tsitsi Singizi , UNICEF Zimbabwe Communication Officer , Tel: 091 2943 915 Email: tsingizi@unicef.org




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