By Mark Maseko, Communication Officer, UNICEF Zambia
More than 6.4 million children in Zambia aged between 6 months and 15 years – 46% of the population – had an opportunity to receive the life-saving measles vaccination during a week-long national campaign in mid-September.
Schools, strong social mobilization and grassroots-level involvement
Schools were fully involved in ensuring students were vaccinated.
“The response was very good. We had excellent communication from the Ministry of Education through the District Education Board Secretary,” said Patrick Tembo, Head teacher of Mama Monty, a public school in the Kitwe district of Zambia. “We wanted all 3,000 pupils in our school aged below 15 years to be vaccinated. We asked their parents and they complied, making this a huge success.”
Social mobilization supported by UNICEF and other partners including efforts by Zambian Government health promoters and community organizations, together with effective use of mass media resulted in widespread awareness about the campaign.
“I heard it on TV and also from people who were making announcements in our compound. Nurses also told me when I was at the clinic last month,” said Mildred Sitali, a mother of two sons from Mindolo North.
Fathers did not want to be left out of the efforts to have their children protected from measles. A father of Kitwe district, Nathan Mwaba, took his children for vaccinations at Mindolo clinic.
“Fathers also need to be involved in caring for children. I find it normal to take my children to the clinic like I have done today,” said Mwaba.
Another father, Gabriel Tumbama, of Masala area of Ndola district, pointed out that measles could affect any child if they did not have protection.
“My first born daughter who is now 15-years-old had measles last year. When she was a baby we did not take her for vaccinations. I brought all my four children today because I do not what them to get sick,” said Tumbama.
Zambian Lions contribute tirelessly to the campaign
The Lions Clubs worked with national partners and communities to help make the campaign a success. A visit to Chimwemwe Clinic in Kitwe found Lions Club members fully involved. Lions Club of Jacaranda Zone Six Chairperson Delia Kaweche, who was in the company of another club member, Freda Mwanza, explained the club’s participation.
“As Lions we have a programme to fight measles and other diseases. We need to help eradicate measles which is killing our children,” said Kaweche.
“As Lions Club members it is our duty to serve the community wherever there is work to be done. We are supporting the measles immunization to ensure that it is successful so that children are protected,” said Mwanza.
Information gathered from various vaccination centres countrywide showed very high demand during the campaign, held from 10-15 September and extended a few days for mop-ups. A post campaign survey is being conducted this week, but initial administrative reporting shows promising coverage.
Strengthened immunization key to ensuring elimination in Zambia
Zambia scheduled the 2012 campaign because of the on-going threat of measles, demonstrated by outbreaks recorded in 2010.
Dr. Joseph Katema, MP, the Minister of Community Development, Mother and Child Health, noted that measles remains a significant threat to the health of children in Zambia, especially those aged below five years. Dr. Katema added that the only way to protect children from measles is to ensure that every child is immunized.
“It was therefore imperative that even children who were vaccinated against measles in 2010 as well as those who received the vaccine through the routine programme had to receive a vaccine during this campaign,” he said.
According to UNICEF Zambia Officer-in-Charge Shaya Asindua, immunisation is key to improving the health and welfare of children. “UNICEF commends the Zambian Government for progress in the immunisation programme which has resulted in a reduction in under-five mortality.”
“This vaccination is likely to contribute significantly to further reductions in infant and under-five morbidity and mortality rates and towards the achievement of Millennium Development Goal number 4,” said WHO Zambia Representative Dr. Olusegun Babaniyi.
Apart from measles vaccinations, the campaign also planned to deliver supplemental polio vaccine to 1,501,440 children aged 0 to 59 months in 30 high-risk districts. A total of 2,728,295 children countrywide in the same age group were targeted to receive Vitamin A, which strengthens the immune system and prevents blindness, while 2,155,444 children aged 12-59 months were to receive deworming tablets.
Led by the Government of Zambia, UNICEF, WHO, USAID, JICA, the Lions Clubs and Church of Latter Day Saints provided technical and financial support towards the campaign with further major financial support given by the Measles & Rubella Initiative and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).