Thursday, June 10, 2010

Immunization in Zimbabwe

Early one recent morning at Rutsanana Clinic in Glen Norah, Harare, hundreds of women were eagerly waiting outside the clinic to have their babies immunized.
“It was the sight of these women and children that made me realize and appreciate the full scale of the immunization campaign,” said UNICEF Zimbabwe Senior Budget Assistant Josphen Mugabe, who spent the day in Harare’s high-density suburbs of Glen Norah and Highfields to monitor and evaluate Zimbabwe’s recent measles vaccination drive.
It is rare for UNICEF financial and administrative staff to monitor field activities directly. However, this was a unique scenario designed to support the nation-wide campaign, which targeted 5 million children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years.

UNICEF Zimbabwe resolved to make the measles campaign its top priority and set up a total office mobilization for 26-27 May, when the drive kicked off. This was also an opportunity to immunize under five against other diseases and provide them with vitamin A supplementation.

The mobilization saw more than 91 UNICEF staff members deployed to 24 centres throughout Zimbabwe, checking on the progress of the campaign and ensuring that its targets were being met with minimal challenges. UNICEF staff supported the advocacy and social mobilization efforts behind the campaign, as well, by visiting communities and reminding parents to bring their children to the vaccination points.
In the run-up to the campaign, UNICEF and its partners ensured that adequate vaccines, logistics and health staff were in place for a smooth operation.
Overwhelming response
UNICEF Zimbabwe Chief of Young Child Survival and Development Dr. Aboubacar Kampo said he was humbled by the immense response of parents to the measles effort.
“It was amazing to see, and also be told, that even some of the traditionally hard-to-reach communities had responded to the massive social mobilization campaign and brought their children for immunization,” he said.
Dr. Kampo noted that health workers had to extend their hours at most centres, as long queues remained beyond the scheduled closing times.
Religious objectors
But despite these encouraging signs, isolated cases of resistance by some religious objectors continued to be a cause for concern.
Many of the estimated 7,000 measles cases reported this year have been among members of the Apostolic Sect, a religious group opposed to any form of medical action for prevention or treatment of illness.
UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama said the engagement of religious objectors was an ongoing process and should be based on dialogue and respect for the views of all partners – including the religious communities – and, most important, respect for the views and rigts of children themselves.
“No matter what our religious beliefs or denominations, or indeed our party or political affiliations,” he said, “we all have an urgent moral imperative to reduce these unnecessary and preventable child deaths.”
Beyond the campaign
Initial data suggest that the campaign has been highly successful in reaching its target groups. And the positive response by communities has created an opening for Zimbabwe to revamp its routine immunization programme.
“This campaign has given us the chance to remind parents that even beyond the 2nd of June” – when the immunization campaign concluded – “all clinics and health facilities will be available to immunization of children against the main child-killer diseases,” said Dr. Salama.
The Government of Zimbabwe, supported by the non-governmental organization Helen Keller International, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, began the massive campaign to protect children against measles following a recent outbreak of the disease in the country.

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