MAPUTO, 3 August (IRIN) - A national immunisation campaign targeting almost 9 million children has kicked off in Mozambique.
The campaign aims to vaccinate children aged between nine months and 14 years against measles; children under five years of age will be vaccinated against polio; children aged six to 59 months will receive vitamin A supplements.
Organisers have also embarked on a campaign to inform parents and guardians of the importance of vaccinations and encourage them to bring their children for vaccinations.
"We've seen a massive mobilisation at all levels of society, including parents, teachers, the private sector and religious groups," the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative, Leila Pakkala, told IRIN.
The campaign was launched on Monday in the northern province of Nampula, the most populous region in the country, and initial indications were that the mobilisation effort had been worthwhile.
"We visited a market place and a school to see the first day of vaccinations, and we saw for ourselves hundreds of mothers with their children coming for vaccinations as they also went about their normal business," said Pakkala.
The International Measles Partnership (IMP) - which includes UNICEF, the World Heath Organisation (WHO), the American Red Cross, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the UN Foundation - contributed US $6.4 million to the campaign.
In Mozambique some 246 children out of every 1,000 children die before their fifth birthday - one of the highest child mortality rates in the world - mainly from preventable diseases such as measles, which kills more children than any other vaccine-preventable disease.
Children who survive measles can have permanent disabilities, including brain damage, blindness and deafness.
Pakkala pointed out that Mozambique had a relatively "healthy measles vaccination coverage at around 77 percent, but we [hope to reach] 100 percent coverage with this campaign".
The ministry of health was hoping to be able to declare Mozambique polio-free by the end of the year. According to the Demographic and Health Survey in 2003, just 69.6 percent of children aged 12 to 23 months had received all three the doses of polio vaccine required for effective immunisation.
However, the vaccination campaign faced challenges: almost half Mozambique's 18 million people have no access to basic healthcare because they live in remote rural areas with poor or nonexistent roads.
But with 5,000 staff administering vaccinations and an additional 33,000 activists conducting the mobilisation campaign, organisers hoped to reach even the most remote areas.
Pakkala said lessons had been learned from a previous measles campaign in 1998/99, which had only targeted children under five years of age, while most measles cases registered after that had occurred among older children, who had not been vaccinated.
She stressed the importance of continuing improvement in routine vaccination and healthcare, and that "sustaining community involvement" was key to this.
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