Zimbabwe Tries to Vaccinate 5 Million Kids for Measles in 10 Days

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A vaccination is prepared. Photo: Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Is this how to do it right? Zimbabwe’s effort to vaccinate 5 million kids in 10 days could be a new standard-bearer for how health agencies, governments and African leaders can work together to crush a health problem before it lays down roots—and kills thousands of children.

At issue is childhood measles. Since last September, the disease has been reported in 55 of Zimbabwe’s 62 districts, killing close to 400 children amid 7,000 cases, according to VOA News.

A raft of international agencies responded to the crisis: the World Health Organization and the U.N. Children’s Fund were involved, with money donated by the the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, along with help on the ground from NGOs, ReliefWeb reports.

The goal: to vaccinate 5 million youths up to age 15 against the disease, which weakens the immune system and infects the respiratory tract.

In the program's first three days, workers had vaccinated nearly 1.3 million children the Zimbabwean reported. Scheduled to end June 2, the drive is well on pace to meet its goal.

The aggressive response has required massive and intricate coordination between governments and organizations.

“This is the most ambitious vaccination campaign which has ever taken place in Zimbabwe,” Torbin Bruhn, a medical expert with the European Commission, said in a Q&A posted by Reuters. “Five million children under the age of 15 have been targeted by the Ministry of Health across the country to receive the potentially life-saving immunization which will protect them for many years to come.”

Bruhn said in the piece that the Zimbabwean health department had set up 1,500 vaccination stations around the country and employed about 4,000 people to perform the response. He estimated that up to 10 percent of the population may opt out of the vaccinations for religious reasons.

Aside from measles, Zimbabwe has been the site of recent outbreaks of cholera, due to poor sanitation in many communities and cities. Last year, thousands died from a serious outbreak of the disease.

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