Zimbabwe: Reaching communities at risk of measles with vaccination
Mwenezi Ward 10 Councillor Pilate Sayi is doing his part to ensure no child in his area is left behind when it comes to vaccination. Leveraging his position, he has taken it upon himself to sensitize residents of his community about the importance of participating in immunization activities.
“MoHCC always engages us before campaigns then we notify all village heads who then do village assemblies to share the same information. We also get notified through full council meetings then cascade the information to communities through our structures,” he says.
“Apart from using these structures, we also continue engaging guardians as we have seen the benefits of immunization and further support health workers during campaigns as a show of solidarity,” he adds.
The Government of Zimbabwe, with the support of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), conducted the third round of the measles vaccination campaign in eight (8) priority districts from 30 January to 11 February 2023. The targeted districts include Chiredzi, Gutu, Bikita and Mwenezi (Masvingo Province), Chikomba and Goromonzi (Mashonaland East Province), Chipinge district in Manicaland Province) and Mazowe district in Mashonaland Central Province.
The campaign led by the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education was mainly a school-based programme targeting children between 5-15 years. More than 475,368 of the targeted 637 320 children were vaccinated. The coverage translated to 74,6%, an increase from the 65% percent recorded during the round conducted in October 2022. For provinces like Masvingo, 267507 were being targeted and 277 353 children were reached, translating to a coverage of 104%. The coverage reflects great efforts by vaccinators and mobilizers through different community engagement approach, thanks to the financial support from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
“Our approach has been about identifying areas that have not been doing well in routine immunization and ensuring that such places are reached through campaigns such as this one,” notes Masvingo Provincial Nursing Officer Cresencia Maphosa.
Zimbabwe carried out a measles situation analysis and risk assessment in May/June 2023. This assessment allowed the country to categorize districts according to level of vulnerability and burden of measles in the previous outbreak. The first response activity targeted areas in Manicaland where the outbreak started with Mutasa, Nyanga, Mutare, Chimanimani and Buhera given the highest priority. Children between 6 months to 15 years were targeted. The second phase was a national measles vaccination campaign targeting all children 6 – 59 months. The 3rd phase covered 8 districts and this time targeting all children 5 – <15 years of age regardless of vaccination status.
To ensure the recent campaign was a success, the approach involved increasing parental awareness of the school-based programme and encouraging parents to give consent for their children to be vaccinated. In addition, School Health Coordinators were providing information to students and their parents to ensure that they have the right information on the measles vaccination schedule and benefits.
“The turnout is always good when the campaign is school based because we would have our children in one place. The challenge remains of those children from religious sects who do not turn up on the day of vaccination and continuous engagements with the community is needed,” said Majijimba Primary School Health Coordinator Mr Darlington Moyo, in Chiredzi.
A mother of three, 31-year-old Plaxedes Kengani from Chiredzi said, “I know the importance of immunization, and my children are always participate in these campaigns and we go to Damarakanak Clinic for our routine immunization when due.”
The campaign is an integral part of the wider WHO response designed to support the Zimbabwe’s efforts to increase vaccination coverage for vaccine-preventable diseases. UNICEF and WHO are working with other partners to intensify efforts for catch-up vaccination to address backsliding on routine immunization and expand outreach services in underserved areas to reach missed children and implement campaigns to prevent outbreaks. In line with the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation of people-centred strategies to build trust in vaccines and immunization, counter misinformation and increase vaccine uptake particularly among vulnerable communities is ongoing. Further, lessons learnt during outbreak response in April 2022 are being used to enhance vaccine services, integrated with strong primary health care services and universal health coverage across the life course.
“It is good that most districts have surpassed targets which is a good sign that we are on track to ensure all children are vaccinated and protected,” notes WHO Zimbabwe Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI) Logistics Technical Officer Mr Kenneth Chindedza.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organzation (WHO) – Zimbabwe.