Zambia has embarked on the first round of the annual Child Health Week campaign to protect the health of children and adolescent girls amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

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WHO staff supervising activities in the districts © Dr. Rufaro Chirambo, WHO Zambia

Zambia like many other countries has faced challenges of safely maintaining access to high-quality, essential health services due to pressure exerted on the health delivery system by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fear, stigma, misinformation and limitations on movements can negatively affect the demand for care among the public and this could lead to direct mortality from the outbreak and indirect mortality from preventable and treatable conditions. The World Health Organisation’s recent guidance to countries for maintaining essential health services during the COVID -19 pandemic urges countries to identify context-relevant essential health services that will be prioritized for continuation during the outbreak. Although mortality rates for COVID-19 are low in children and adolescents, this group may be disproportionately affected by disruption of routine health services.

Within this context, Zambia has embarked on the first round of the annual Child Health Week campaign to protect the health of children and adolescent girls amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign which is being conducted from 22th to 26th June 2020 is a massive effort intended to deliver child survival interventions meant to protect Zambian children against killer diseases and to improve their health and development. It is an important intervention for accelerating progress towards attaining the SDG 3 goal’s target of reducing child deaths by two thirds by 2030.

This integrated campaign will provide an opportunity for ensuring that basic services reach all children especially those who do not benefit from routine health services. It is being used to reach unvaccinated children who missed the routine immunisation sessions because they did not attend vaccination sessions or the vaccine was not available. The 2020 Child Health Week has been identified as a vehicle for conducting a catch-up campaign for Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) targeting 3 to 59 months old children. In October 2005 Zambia was awarded a Polio-free Status by the African Regional Certification Commission (ARCC). It is important for this status to be sustained till the Certification of polio eradication is attained. Following the introduction of the Human Papilloma Virus vaccination in 2019, the campaign has also targeted the vaccination of girls aged 14-15 years. The integrated campaign seeks to achieve the following objectives:-

  1. To provide Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) catch up campaign to 3 to 59 months old children who missed type 2 containing polio vaccine from 2015 to March 2020;
  2. To provide HPV vaccination to 14 and 15 years old in and out of school girls for Human Papilloma Vaccination (HPV1) and Human Papilloma Vaccination (HPV2);
  3. Vitamin A supplementation to 6 to 59 months old children;
  4. Deworming to 12 to 59 months old children and
  5. Delivery of other Well and Sick Child Services such as Paediatric HIV and Early Childhood Development (ECD).

Within the context of the COVID-19 response, the provision of these services during the child health week will be in line with safety standards set for ensuring the safety of health workers and the communities. In order to stimulate the demand for services, key messages are being disseminated to the public through a national media campaign. Community mobilisation is on - going and community health volunteers are on the ground to mobilise communities and support the delivery of messages.

The World Health Organization Country Office has provided both financial and technical support to ensure that health workers are trained, logistics are in place and is supporting supervision of service delivery in districts.