HARARE, Zimbabwe, 20 April 2011 – Peter Manjoro straps his 11-month-old baby on his back and clutches his sons Ngoni, 5, and Takudzwa, 8, by the hand as they begin the 15-km journey to the nearest vaccination point. For this farm labourer, it is a journey he can afford to take only once a year.
“Because there is no clinic near our home, and because my wife is too sick to travel this distance, I have to ask for a day off work and devote it to bringing the children for immunization,” says Mr. Manjoro.
He goes on to explain how the distance that separates them from the main town of Nyanga – coupled with the dust; gravel and steep ascent along the road – make this an extremely difficult task.
Scaling up immunization services
Mr. Manjoro’s experience is shared by many other parents in hard-to-reach areas of Zimbabwe. But soon, their stories of hardship will be history. Zimbabwe’s Expanded Programme of Immunization has a new lease on life thanks to a $5.7 million grant from the Government of Japan.
This contribution will play a significant role in scaling up the provision of life-saving health interventions, including the procurement of vaccines, injection supplies and cold-chain equipment for preserving vaccines.
Such interventions are essential for making immunization accessible to every child, regardless of economic status, gender, religion or other social factors.
Japan’s deep commitment
In signing the grant agreement, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama applauded the Japanese for holding to their commitment to expanded childhood immunization, even during this period of distress in Japan.
“The Government of Japan has remained one of the prominent and committed donors to children’s health in Zimbabwe,” said Dr. Salama “Immunization is one of the most critical child-survival services, which should be accessed by every child in Zimbabwe, rich or poor.”
Zimbabwe’s immunization rates declined from around 80 per cent in 1991 to 62 per cent in 2008. The large numbers of unvaccinated children in remote areas led to a 2009 measles outbreak that claimed more than 630 lives. The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare – supported by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and civil society partners – responded vigorously, vaccinating some 5 million children within two months.
Child and maternal health
Japan’s support for Zimbabwe’s immunization programme is important to the goal of boosting immunization coverage to at least 90 per cent at the national level and 80 per cent in each district. Reaching these targets will help to reduce the number of children who die of preventable causes before they reach their fifth birthday.
“Through collective efforts, we can arrest the incidences of childhood diseases,” said H.E. Koichi Morita, Ambassador of Japan to Zimbabwe.
“We hope that the grant being extended today will contribute to helping Zimbabwe achieve two of the Millennium Development Goals,” he added. “One is MDG 4, reducing under-five mortality by two thirds by 2015, and the other is MDG 5, the improvement of maternal health. The Government of Japan is fully committed to assist Zimbabwe in attaining these goals.”
Over the past six years, Japan has been unwavering in its support for the women and children of Zimbabwe, contributing more than $16 million through UNICEF to the health sector alone.
“We are making tremendous efforts to reach the growing populations of religious objectors and the elite, who do not always respond to our immunization campaigns,” said Zimbabwe’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Dr. Gerald Gwinji.
“The measles outbreak of 2009-10 showed that religion or socio-economic status does not save a child from getting life-threatening diseases,” he added. “Every child has the right to have access to these life-saving vaccines that are provided free-of-charge at all public health facilities.”