Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's health system still strained

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by Sebastian Nyamhangambiri

HARARE - Zimbabwe's Health Minister Henry Madzorera on Monday said the country's health delivery system is still strained and needs strengthening to be able to adequately deal with cholera which last year's killed more than 4 000 people countrywide.

"We believe that that this year we are better prepared," said Madzorera at the opening of the First Annual Regional Conference on Immunisation in Africa organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) African region in Harare yesterday.

"However we still need to improve our disease surveillance systems which are currently faced with human resource constraints, poor communication networks and limited utilisation of data collected. Communicable disease control needs strengthening," he said.

Last year a cholera epidemic - that the WHO labelled the worst in Africa in more than 15 years - killed 4 288 Zimbabweans out of 98 592 infections.

The situation could have been worse had it not been for the international aid agencies which moved in to rescue the situation.

Last week United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Catherine Bragg said the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe was still "fragile" despite some successes by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's February unity government.

Since October, cholera has re-emerged and there has been about 100 cases of infections and at least five lives claimed. ?

The WHO conference has drawn health ministers and vaccination experts from the continent and will end on Thursday.

According to WHO Africa director Luis Gomes Sambo, the conference is "expected to review the status of immunisation in the African region and propose more efficient ways of utilisation of immunisation tools and services".

He said this was important in light of the fact that sub-Saharan Africa still accounted for 51 percent of all under-fiver-year-olds' deaths globally.

He added that as of December 2008, routine immunisation coverage in the region had increased in the last decade from 40 to 75 percent.

"However, the overall increase in routine immunisation coverage rate masks disparities between and within countries. For example, about five million children missed DTP3 vaccination in 2008 and 75 percent of them are concentrated in 10 countries."

On immunisation programmes in Zimbabwe, Madzorera said before the formation of the unity government, raising funds was "extremely" difficult. He added that: "(Now) problems of transport and human resources were more serious that having the actual drugs". - ZimOnline