LINDA NYONDO, SHIKANDA KAWANGA, NANCY SIAME, Lusaka
ON MONDAY, September 19, Zambia kicked off the country-wide immunisation exercise to vaccinate children aged between nine months and 15 years against measles and rubella virus.
The vaccination exercise is being conducted in all health facilities and schools to reach the targeted number of children throughout the country.
Ministry of Health deputy director for child health and nutrition Angels Mwiche said Government, in partnership with other stakeholders, decided to conduct the measles and rubella vaccination exercise to protect people from the adverse effects of the diseases.
He said Government has decided to target the age between nine months and 15 years because it will be easy to eradicate measles and rubella once they are vaccinated.
A survey conducted by the Zambia Daily Mail in Lusaka found long queues of children who have been taken by their parents and guardians for vaccination.
At Chainama Clinic in Lusaka, parents and guardians are reported to have lined up as early as 06:00 hours.
Sheila Mukupa, a mother of two, aged four and eight, said the vaccination exercise is good because children will be protected from measles and rubella.
â€œThis is the first time children are being vaccinated against rubella, as parents we would like to know why it is being done. Most people do not know what rubella is,â€ she said.
Meanwhile, at Ngâ€™ombe Clinic in Lusaka, the nurses could not even afford to take breaks because they were overwhelmed with the response.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), measles is a highly contagious disease which is caused by a virus. It is passed through direct contact and through air.
Symptoms of measles include high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and it lasts four to seven days.
Other symptoms of measles include a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.
â€œAfter several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck, the rash eventually spreads reaching the hands and feet,â€ WHO stated.
Rubella is an acute contagious viral infection. WHO states that the illness is generally mild in children.
Rubella, however, has consequences in pregnant women causing fatal defects known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
WHO states that the disease is usually mild in children with symptoms including a rash, low fever, nausea and mild conductivities.
Other symptoms include swollen lymph glands behind the ears and in the neck.
WHO has further stated that the disease is common in women who may develop arthritis and painful joints that usually last from three to 10 days.
â€œWhen a woman is infected with the rubella virus early in pregnancy, she has a 90 percent chance of passing the virus on to her foetus. This can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or severe birth defects.
â€œChildren with CRS can suffer from hearing impairments, eye and heart defects, and other lifelong disabilities, including autism, diabetes mellitus and thyroid dysfunction, many of which require costly therapy, surgeries and other expensive care,â€ WHO states.
Government, with support from GAVI, is expected to spend US$4.3 million to vaccinate over seven million children aged nine months to 15 years against measles and rubella diseases.
The combined vaccination campaign is expected to come to an end this Saturday.
Speaking during the launch of the vaccination campaign, Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya said the programme is in line with Governmentâ€™s vision to end preventable child mortality and morbidity.
Dr Chilufya said Government has dedicated efforts meant to support immunisation as well as other primary health care interventions.
â€œMeasles kills millions of children while several others are left blind and some with other neurological deficits. Rubella also contributes to stillbirths and may manifest as miscarriages,â€ he said.
He said Government will continue to strengthen immunisation against measles and rubella to ensure that children grow up healthily.
The minister has since directed all provincial medical officers to ensure that they vaccinate at least 95 percent of the targeted children in their area.
â€œGovernment will continue to create a healthy and productive nation by emphasising primary health care,â€ Dr Chilufya said.
WHO country representative Jacob Mufunda said the organisation will continue to support Government in strengthening the health system in the country.
United Nations Childrenâ€™s Fund (UNICEF) representative health specialist Paul Ngwakum emphasised the need to reach out to all children in hard-to-reach places.
And Lions Club district governor Dan Zyambo said children need to have healthy lives as they are future leaders, adding that the Lionâ€™s Club will continue to partner with Government to provide health services.
â€œWe will assist Government in encouraging people to take their children for immunisation during this week of the campaign,â€ he said.
The measles-rubella vaccination campaign team has called on all pregnant teenagers to go to the nearest vaccination centres to access the immunisation so as to protect the unborn child from any deformities that can be caused by the diseases.
Livingstone district measles and rubella vaccination campaign manager Evelyn Jere said in an interview that pregnant girls, if not vaccinated, risk giving birth to a child with a lot of complications.
â€œIf a pregnant teenager suffers from measles or rubella, the unborn child could suffer from brain damage, mental effects, and sight, among many other symptoms of a disease called congenital rubella syndrome,â€ she said.
Ms Jere urged pregnant girls aged 15 and below to go to the nearest place for vaccination, adding that the vaccination is safe for pregnant girls.
She reiterated that the vaccination is good in that it prevents the unborn child from measles and rubella if immunisation is taken by a pregnant girl.
Ms Jere urged parents to encourage their pregnant children to go for vaccination, which has been proven and tested as safe to use even in pregnancy.
She also urged the general public to see to it that children get the vaccine, which is essential in delivering a healthy baby and also key in having a healthy nation.
LINDA NYONDO, SHIKANDA KAWANGA, NANCY SIAME, Lusaka