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Ministry of Health and UNICEF Zambia join with mobile phone companies for Child Health Week

Raising awareness of Child Health Week via mobile phones

LUSAKA, 16 July 2009 – To highlight Zambia’s Child Health Week activities, which this year focus on preventing polio, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF have joined together with two of the country’s leading mobile phone companies, ZAIN and MTN, to spread the message about vaccinations and other key interventions.

Child Health Week will run from 20-25 July 2009 and will take place in all of Zambia’s nine provinces. Next week’s activities will be centered on the polio prevention campaign that takes place in 28 districts bordering Angola, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It is about time that we used modern technology to ensure child health and this year is particularly important because of the polio prevention campaign,” said UNICEF Zambia Representative, Lotta Sylwander. “We are grateful that MTN and ZAIN have agreed to assist free of charge in sending mobile phone messages to millions of their subscribers and thanks to their efforts, we believe in one hundred percent coverage next week!”
The aim of using mobile phone text messages (SMS) is to advocate as widely as possible the importance of making sure that children are vaccinated during Child Health Week. Mobile text messaging (SMS) can benefit many areas of public health and basic social services by providing early warning systems for outbreaks or public health emergencies, self-monitoring and for many other health promotion issues.

“We are very glad to be of service to children in Zambia,” said MTN Marketing Manager, Ethel Mulenga.

The text messages will encourage parents to bring their children under the age of five to their nearest health centres during the Child Health Week. One of the messages Zain and MTN will be sending to their customers says: “Your child can be healthier! Take your children under age five to the nearest health centre for free vaccinations from 20-25 July.”

About polio
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects children under five. The virus attacks the nervous system and is transmitted through contaminated food, water and feces. One in two-hundred infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Among those paralyzed, 5 per cent to 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Polio cannot be cured and can only be prevented by immunization. WHO recommends that infants receive three doses of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in the first year of life.

About the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
This campaign is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Center for Diseases Control and Prevention and UNICEF. The polio eradication coalition includes governments of countries affected by polio; private sector foundations (United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (World Bank); bilateral donor governments; the European Commission; the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and nongovernmental organizations as well as corporate partners (Sanofi Pasteur, De Beers and Wyeth). Volunteers in developing countries also play a key role. For more information go to www.polioeradication.org.

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 more information, please contact:
Patrick Slavin, Chief, Communications, UNICEF Zambia,
Tel + 260 1 252055,
E-mail: pslavin@unicef.org

Betty Chella Nalungwe, Senior Communications Assistant, UNICEF Zambia,
Tel + 260 1 252055
E-mail: bcnalungwe@unicef.org

Brian Hansford, Communication Specialist, UNICEF New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7269,
E-mail: bhansford@unicef.org




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