- Two million children are being vaccinated against polio during the Zimbabwe's Child Health Days. While Zimbabwe has been polio free for eight years, there are concerns the disease could cross borders and return to the country in a situation where most families are suffering from deteriorating economic conditions.
The polio vaccination campaign, launched on Monday, is "on track to meet its bold targets and is vital for child survival amid the challenges in Zimbabwe today," said Festo Kavishe, the Zimbabwe representative of Children's Fund (UNICEF), which is coordinating the campaign. Children were also to receive Vitamin A supplements.
"Zimbabwe was declared polio free in 1999," said Mr Kavishe. "Yet the threat of polio remains very real, with recent cases in Botswana and Namibia," he warned, calling the initiative "a critical boost to health services that are under great stress in Zimbabwe."
The national Child Health Days initiative is an intensive campaign with US$ 1 million spent on vaccines, logistics and staff time. Hundreds of health workers and volunteers have been trained and supported by the Harare Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and UNICEF.
Public health facilities, schools and churches have become immunisation centres, as children are protected against tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and polio, and receive Vitamin A supplementation.
Past child health drives in Zimbabwe had "demonstrated the impact of the campaign approach," UNICEF praised the Harare government. Recent campaigns had boosted Vitamin A coverage from less than 10 percent in 2005 to over 80 percent today.
Overall immunisation coverage, which dropped by almost 50 percent between 2001 and 2004, had once again reached more than 70 percent. The Zimbabwean Ministry of Health had also recorded a decline in measles and malaria cases.
"These nationwide campaigns are the single most important support towards reducing child illnesses and deaths in Zimbabwe," commented UN agency's Head of Health in Zimbabwe, Colleta Kibassa. "However, past successes have to be maintained and built upon. Our aim must remain to reach all of Zimbabwe's children," she advised.
According to UNICEF, "the campaign comes at a critical time, as families are under ever-greater pressure from record high inflation, unemployment and the highest number of orphans - as a percentage of children - in the world."
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