Zambia has made progress in reducing child mortality, but significant challenges remain.

A nurse administers an oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) to a baby

The challenge

Zambia is a society with high levels of poverty in which children and women face many health risks. For children, these include HIV, malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.

“Malnutrition continues to be an underlying cause of child deaths”

Over the past decade, Zambia has seen a 30 per cent reduction in child mortality. However, during the same period, neonatal mortality rates remained almost stagnant at 24 deaths per every 1,000 births. Inadequate infrastructure and services are key factors hindering stronger progress for women and children. Despite improvements, neonatal and maternal mortality rates remain unacceptably high for a low-middle income country.

Malnutrition continues to be an underlying cause of children’s deaths with little change to stunting levels in the last few decades, which are around 40 per cent for children under 5. In addition, Zambia’s general population has an estimated HIV prevalence of 11.6 per cent, with women carrying a higher burden at 14.5 per cent. Health issues are worse in rural areas and among the poor.

The solution

UNICEF Zambia’s health programme is geared towards ending preventable maternal and child mortality. Our work is anchored in the National Health Strategic Plan 2017-2021 and the Roadmap for Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality 2013–2016. 

UNICEF’s health programme works to keep mothers healthy and help provide a strong start to children’s lives. We aim to ensure that by 2021, children and women will benefit from clear improvements in antenatal care and skilled birth attendance; maternal and newborn postnatal care; immunisation coverage and school-based health interventions; as well as expanded coverage in the treatment of children affected by diarrhoea, pneumonia, acute malnutrition and malaria. This will be achieved through aiming to increase the number of:

  • Women attending quality antenatal care visits to 80 per cent.
  • Skilled birth attendance to 80 per cent.
  • Children who are fully immunised by their first birthday to 80 per cent.
  • Women and newborns that receive postnatal care within 48 hours (live births) to 90 per cent.
  • Under 5 children who have diarrhoea receiving oral rehydration salts and zinc to 80 per cent.
  • Children between birth and 5 years old  who might have pneumonia with appropriate antibiotics to 80 per cent.
  • Children aged 0 – 59 months who receive malaria treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapy or other appropriate antimalarial drugs to 80 per cent.

Alongside support to the government on these programmes, successful health systems require frequent and good quality administrative data to enable the monitoring of disease trends and the evaluation of policy interventions.