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Maintaining essential health services for children during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia

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© UNICEF/Zambia/2021/Mulikita

Working to avoid wider negative health impacts during the pandemic.

With COVID-19 placing an unprecedented strain on health services around the world, the importance of addressing the pandemic while also ensuring the delivery of essential basic health services is hard to underestimate.

In Luapula Province, in the north of Zambia, maintaining essential health services for children during the pandemic involves making sure health workers have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to carry out their work safely, and ensuring the essential medicines and routine vaccines remain in stock.

“It is not an easy task from our end,” said Emilda Banda, a registered nurse working in the children’s ward at Mansa General Hospital in the Luapula provincial capital.

To help address the challenges faced during the pandemic, UNICEF and its partners through the Ministry of Health have rehabilitated the oxygen plant at Mansa General Hospital, provided oxygen concentrators to hospitals and health centres, and delivered routine traditional vaccines and ‘inter-agency emergency health kits’ which provide a package of essential medicines.

“The support received through UNICEF and partners has really cushioned the supplies in the province,” said Mrs Martina Ngoma Musonda, the Provincial Chief Pharmacist. “I can confidently say we received the supplies and made the necessary distributions to hospitals and health facilities.”

Dr Mabvuto Zulu, the Mansa General Hospital Acting Superintendent, says the increase in oxygen supplies has been really critical at this time, for patients with COVID-19 as well as patients with other respiratory illnesses. “The support received has gone a long way in helping save lives and assisted the hospital be able to handle various cases better.”

“With the assistance of the oxygen concentrators, children receive oxygen support and through continuous close monitoring and care, the babies are resuscitated,” says nurse Banda.

With support from the Federal Republic of Germany through the KFW Development Bank and the Swedish international development cooperation agency (Sida), UNICEF has been able to deliver a total of 310 oxygen concentrators (260 and 50 respectively) to the Ministry of Health as part of the COVID-19 response. Swedish support through UNICEF has also funded the rehabilitation of oxygen plants at UTHs Children’s Hospital in Lusaka, Lewanika General Hospital (Mongu) and Mansa General Hospital.

Through support from Germany, Sweden and UK aid, medicines and medical supplies to cover the needs of 5.46 million people in Zambia are also being delivered to the Ministry of Health.

By Tiwine Muchipa, Youth Engagement and Communications Associate, UNICEF Zambia