Zimbabwe holds consultative conference on measles and vaccine preventable diseases
Zimbabwe held the first ever National Stakeholders Consultative Conference on measles and vaccine preventable diseases in Harare on 20th May 2010.
The conference brought together Senior Government officials, community health workers, developmental partners, the UN family, traditional chiefs, and leaders from various Apostolic churches, who are the main objectors to immunization efforts. The conference, which is a unique event in the history of immunization in the country, marks the beginning of concerted efforts in working together for a common cause—the improvement of child survival by contributing to the protection of Zimbabwe’s children from measles and other vaccine preventable diseases.
Speaking at the conference, the chairman of the Chief ’ s Council, Chief Charumbira said that traditional leaders support immunization programs and often work together with village health workers to mobilize parents and care givers to immunize all children. He however, urged the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to improve on their interaction with members of the apostolic sects and other objectors, to try and win them over and not to antagonize them.
The UNICEF Representative, Dr Peter Salama spoke on behalf of the UN family and other developmental partners during the conference. He acknowledged the office of the Prime Minister and the inclusive government for putting health high on their agenda. In his statement, Salama lamented the fact that immunization coverages have dropped steadily over the past few years. Immunization coverages have dropped from around 85% a few years ago to around 50%, a situation Salama said is unacceptable. He said the reasons for this decline are many and include:
- The exodus of skilled human resources
- Competing health priorities
- Religious objectors, in particular the apostolic sects
- Reduction of government health budgets
He thanked the religious leaders for committing to the dialogue that will save the lives of children. “ Every child has the right to be healthy, and to grow to adulthood, ” said Salama. He said everybody has a part to play in making sure all children are protected from disease and that those that need to be vaccinated are vaccinated. Dr Salama reiterated the commitment of the UN family in Zimbabwe to support the efforts of the government of Zimbabwe and other partners to fight against childhood diseases. “ UNICEF and WHO, as the health arms of the UN in Zimbabwe reiterate their commitment to assist Zimbabwe to attain the Millennium Development Goals ( MDGs ), especially the health related MDGs ” Salama said.
Speaking at the same occasion , the Deputy Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Mombeshora, said his ministry placed great emphasis on the health of children and therefore considers the conference as very important. “ Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is called such because of the importance placed on child welfare, ” said Mombeshora. He reaffirmed the sentiments by Dr Salama when he said no child in Zimbabwe must die from vaccine preventable diseases.
He lamented the fact that Zimbabwe is in the throes of a measles outbreak since September 2009, with 7 119 suspected cases and 384 deaths as at 9 May 2010. Dr Mombeshora said this outbreak has necessitated the conference because, of the cases recorded so far, 61.3% were not vaccinated and belonged to families from the apostolic sects. He urged all parents and caregivers to ensure that all children attend growth monitoring and all preventive and curative services offered by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare.
In his statement to the conference, the Right Honorable Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai acknowledged the leaders of the apostolic sects for agreeing to engage in dialogue. He said dialogue is the way forward in trying to get the cooperation of these groups. “ Dialogue is the only way of solving the people ’ s problems and the Government of Zimbabwe supports it, ” said Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai also acknowledged the support of partners like WHO, UNICEF and Helen Keller Int. and urged people to work together with them to ensure all children are vaccinated. He said these mobilization efforts should not be targeted at churches only but also at individual level because some parents are taking the decision not to vaccinate at household level, and not at church level.
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