Japan remains steadfast on commitment to Zimbabwe

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Peter Manjoro is a father of three who seems to appreciate the benefits of immunisation very well.

When the opportunity comes, Manjoro straps baby Wellington (11 months) on his back and clutches his two sons, Takudzwa (8) and Ngoni (5) by the hand as they begin the 15-kilometre journey to the nearest vaccination point. For this farm labourer this is a journey he can afford to take only once a year.

“I know my children must be immunised, but because there is no clinic near our home and because my wife is too sick to travel this distance, I have to ask for a day off from work and devote it to bringing the children for immunisation,” says Peter as he explains how the distance that separates them from the main town of Nyanga, coupled with the dust, gravel and steep ascent along the road, makes taking children regularly for immunisation a difficult task.

These harsh experiences which Peter narrates, are shared by many others in hard-to-reach areas of Zimbabwe, but will soon be stories of the past as support to Zimbabwe’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation has been boosted by a $5,7 million grant.

The aid comes from the crisis-riven government of Japan which, despite the disaster that has struck their nation, has remained steadfast on its commitment to Zimbabwe.

This contribution will play a significant role in scaling up the provision of basic and essential life-saving health interventions, including procurement of traditional vaccines, injection supplies and cold chain equipment, essential for the mobilisation of immunisation outreach programmes to make immunisation more accessible to every child regardless of economic status, gender, religion or social and economic factors.

In signing the grant, Unicef country representative, Peter Salama applauded Japan for holding to its commitment to Zimbabwe’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), even during this period of distress in Japan.

“The government of Japan has remained one of the prominent and committed donors to children’s health in Zimbabwe,” said Salama “Immunisation is one of the most critical child survival services which should be accessed by every child in Zimbabwe, rich or poor and this support will enable us to make it accessible to every child in Zimbabwe,” added Salama.

Zimbabwe’s immunisation rates declined from around 80% in 1991 to 62% in 2008. The large numbers of unvaccinated children in hard-to-reach areas led to the worst measles outbreak in the country in 2009 which claimed the lives of over 630 children while more than 12 918 suspected cases were recorded.

However, Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MOHCW), supported by Who, Unicef and Civil Society Organisation partners responded vigorously, vaccinating more than 5 million children within two months.

This success and the strong leadership of the MOHCW has given hope to development partners that the health sector can continue to rebound quickly.

The support to Zimbabwe’s immunisation programme is a fundamental step towards boosting immunisation coverage to at least 90% at national level and at least 80% in each district and further strengthens efforts to reduce the number of children dying before reaching their fifth birthday.

“Through collective efforts, we can arrest the incidences of childhood diseases,” said HE Koichi Morita, Ambassador of Japan to Zimbabwe. “We hope that the grant being extended today will contribute to helping Zimbabwe achieve two of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — one is MDG 4, reducing under-five mortality by two thirds by 2015 and the other is MDG 5, the improvement of maternal health. The government of Japan is fully committed to assist Zimbabwe in attaining these goals.”

The support received from Japan builds onto their perennial support for maternal and child health programmes in Zimbabwe.

Over the past six years Japan has been unwavering in its support for the women and children in Zimbabwe.

During this period, the government of Japan has contributed more than $16 million through Unicef to the health sector alone.

Early this year, the government of Japan availed $5 million in support of maternal and child health and prevention of gender-based violence.

Last year the government of Japan contributed about $1,9 million for the procurement of maternal and neo-natal equipment for 62 district hospitals around the country.

“We are making tremendous efforts to reach the growing populations of religious objectors and the elite who do not always respond to our immunisation campaigns,” said the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Gerald Gwinji.

“The measles outbreak of 2009-10 showed that religion or socio-economic status does not save a child from getting life-threatening diseases. Every child has the right to have access to these life-saving vaccines that are provided free of charge at all public health facilities,” he added.

Zimbabwe’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation has been an important child survival strategy, playing a critical role in reducing Zimbabwe’s child mortality due to vaccine preventable diseases such as polio, diphtheria and whooping cough.

It is through the continued support from donors such as Japan that will help ensure that Peter remains committed to the prescribed immunisation routines for his children.