UNICEF targets 6 million children in measles campaign

Chris Mahove

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has raised concern over the high number of cases and deaths of children following the outbreak of measles in Zimbabwe and has pledged to partner government in the immunization of more than 6 million children between the ages of 5 years old and 15 years old.

UNICEF said it would work with its partners to support the Government’s response and the Rapid Response Teams the Government had deployed in the affected districts.

“UNICEF assists the Government to control the outbreak through the tracking of cases in the community and through supplementary immunization activities. The measles campaign targets more than 2 million children aged between 6 months and 5 years and more than 4 million children aged 5 to 15 years,” it said in statement.

The UN agency said it was also supporting risk communication and community engagement activities which the government was rolling out, noting that this would help reduce vaccine hesitancy, which it said was addressed with Information, Education and Communication materials and interpersonal communication highlighting the benefits of the vaccines.

“UNICEF and partners are helping to collect and respond to misinformation and rumors circulating within communities,” the agency said.

UNICEF expressed gratitude to the Measles Rubella Initiative, GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance, the partners of the Health Development Fund, and other donors who were supporting the Government led response to the measles outbreak and the purchase of additional measles vaccine doses.

It said these had continued to support children in Zimbabwe.

Measles was first reported in Mutasa District of Manicaland Province on 10 April this year, with the government’s weekly Disease Surveillance System noting that  a total of 6034 suspected cases had been reported, with  4266 recoveries and 685 deaths countrywide.

Of these, Manicaland had the cases, accounting for 52.5% and highest case fatality rate of 9.8%.

As of 15 August, 2022, the cases had reached 2056, almost double the figures recorded just four days prior on August 11, with 157 fatalities across all provinces

“The disease was first recorded in Manicaland province on the 10th of April 2022 in Mutasa district. The government responded by initiating the vaccination of children under 5 years regardless of vaccination status. As of 31 August 2022, a cumulative total of 5,735 Cases were recorded by Ministry of Health, 4,117 Recoveries and 639 Deaths have been reported since the onset of the outbreak. New cases were reported from Matabeleland North (60), Manicaland (49), Mashonaland East (41), Mashonaland West (23), Chitungwiza (11), and Harare (6). Since mid-August, it has been an upward trend of new cases and a spread to other provinces. On 31 August, 639 dead were recorded against 704 in September. On 06 September, the total number of deaths was 704. (IFRC, 14 Sep 2022),” the agency said.

Government’s efforts to contain the diseases have been hampered by resistance from some communities, with the majority of deaths occurring among families who had shunned vaccination because of their religious beliefs.

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