LUSAKA, Zambia, 28 June 2007 (UNICEF) - As the nation prepares for the National Integrated Measles Campaign - which will be held from the 9th to 14th of July - social mobilization efforts to encourage every Zambian family and caregiver to bring children under the age of five for lifesaving vaccinations is well underway.
Nationwide, more than 8,997 vaccinators and volunteers will participate in the campaign at 1,351 fixed immunization posts. Further, over the past several weeks immunization supplies have been pre-positioned across the country using several modes of transport, including by lorries and airlifting supplies to remote regions of the country.
With less than three weeks to go before the campaign starts, Minister of Health, the Hon. Brigadier General, Dr. Brian Chituwo, is appealing to the private sector and faith based organizations to help donate to the measles campaign budget, which currently has a shortfall of over US$500,000. The total campaign budget is estimated at US$3 million and so far cooperating partners including UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, and WHO, the World Health Organization, which have contributed US$1,700,000 and US$590,000, respectively, have provided the Government of the Republic of Zambia with more than US$2 million. The Government of the Republic of Zambia has contributed over US$185,000 cash and in-kind infrastructure and personnel.
The integrated measles campaign - which is part of July's Child Health Week -- is aimed at reducing the incidence of measles occurrences in the country. Over 2 million children aged between nine months and five years are targeted to be vaccinated during the measles campaign. "There is a lot that is still required to adequately meet the needs of the campaign," the Hon. Minister said, "Let us make a collective responsibility to save the children of Zambia. You are all urged to partner with the Ministry of Health."
Other services to be provided during the integrated campaign include Vitamin A supplementation to all children aged six months to 5 years and de-worming Mebendazole tablets to all children aged one year to 5 years. Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of the immune system. Giving vitamin A supplements to children who need them increases their resistance to disease, and improves their chances for survival, growth, development, and also prevents blindness.
Fixed health posts during the campaign will also provide re-treatment of insecticide-treated nets to protect against malaria. The ministry of Health and partners are targeting to re-treat 1 million insecticide-treated nets countrywide.
The Hon. Minister commented on the last national measles vaccination campaign that was conducted in 2003 and recorded over 95 percent coverage. Hon. Chituwo said that with a growing national partnership to protect Zambian children, the 2003 success can be repeated, and even surpassed in this year's campaign.
In her address at last week's measles campaign advocacy meeting in Lusaka, WHO Representative in Zambia, Dr. Stella Anyangwe, said "Measles is preventable with a simple and very effective and efficient vaccine which costs less than a dollar per child. It is therefore unpardonable to allow the disease to continue to kill, to sicken and to disable our children."
Also speaking at the advocacy meeting, UNICEF Zambia Deputy Representative, Ms. Elspeth Erickson, stressed the need to reach out to every child in the targeted age group with the measles vaccine. "As UNICEF, we are proud to be associated with this life saving partnership and its aim to reach every single child with a 'second opportunity for vaccination' against measles. We support the Government's effort to protect Zambia's greatest resource - its children - from one of the leading child killer diseases, measles.
"It is a travesty that globally measles is still one of the major causes of childhood illness and a leading cause of child death in many developing countries, despite the fact that a safe vaccine has been available for many decades. We know what has to be done to protect our children and stop the loss of life due to this disease. We need to ensure that every child in Zambia is vaccinated against measles from the 9th to 14th July," she said.
Campaign organizers are gearing up for a major social mobilization effort to reach all Zambians before the campaign gets underway on 9th July. Over the last two months, communication specialists from the Ministry of Health and partners in the social mobilization committee of the national measles campaign have been meeting weekly to strategize. To date, a workshop on communications material development has been held; a major press conference was convened in Lusaka; a workshop for media houses was conducted; and training has been held for provincial, district, and community health promoters.
"Though the whole process may seem daunting, it has a simple goal: finding better ways to harness the extraordinary power of communication and new technologies for - and with - the children, families, and communities the Government and partners serve," said Hon. Chituwo. "But the word must go forth to parents and caregivers to take their children aged between six months and five years for the integrated measles vaccination from 9th to the 14th of July."
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