Date Published: 6 June 2007
Polio the target for Zimbabwean Health Campaign (UNICEF)
Two million Zimbabwean children are being vaccinated against polio during the country’s Child Health Days. The campaign, launched on Monday, is “on track to meet its bold targets and is vital for child survival amid the challenges in Zimbabwe today”, said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe.
Now a permanent feature on the health calendar, Zimbabwe’s Child Health Days seek to reach every corner of the country and every child under five through routine immunization and Vitamin “A” supplements.
This year’s campaign will see all under-five children receive the first round of polio vaccinations in a two-phase national immunization campaign, led by the Government in partnership with UNICEF, WHO and the Helen Keller Foundation.
“ Zimbabwe was declared polio free in 1999,” said UNICEF’s Kavishe.
“ Yet the threat of polio remains very real, with recent cases in Botswana and Namibia.
_ This week-long campaign, with essential funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Government of Ireland, is a critical boost to health services that are under great stress in Zimbabwe,” added Kavishe.
The Child Health Days initiative is an intensive campaign with US$1 million spent on vaccines, logistics and staff time. Hundreds of health workers and volunteers have been trained and supported by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and UNICEF. Public health facilities, schools and churches have become immunization centres, as children are protected against tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and polio, and receive Vitamin A supplementation.
Past child health drives in Zimbabwe have demonstrated the impact of the campaign approach. Recent campaigns have boosted Vitamin A coverage from less than 10% in 2005 to over 80% today. Overall immunization coverage, which dropped by almost 50% between 2001 and 2004, has once again reached more than 70%. The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has also recorded a decline in measles and malaria cases. Much of this progress is due to the determination of neighbourhood health committees and religious and traditional leaders who have encouraged mothers to bring their children for vaccination.
With donor assistance from the UK and Japan, UNICEF provides support to the Zimbabwe Expanded Programme on Immunisation (ZEPI) and procures all vaccines for immunization, cold chain equipment for vaccine storage and technical support to the health workers.
“ These nationwide campaigns are the single most important support towards reducing child illnesses and deaths in Zimbabwe,” said UNICEF’s Head of Health in Zimbabwe, Dr Colleta Kibassa.
“ However, past successes have to be maintained and built upon. Our aim must remain to reach all of Zimbabwe’s children.”
The campaign comes at a critical time, as families are under ever-greater pressure from record high inflation, unemployment and the highest number of orphans – as a percentage of children – in the world.