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Zambia Uses ZAIN SMS to Fight MeaslesPosted by: admin on Tue, 2010-08-31 17:10
The Ministry of Health worked with the telecommunications company to send messages to parents reminding them to vaccinate their children.
LUSAKA, Zambia – While most Zambians think of SMS text messaging as a way to keep in touch with friends and family, it can also be used to roll out important health services, as the Zambian government demonstrated in July.
As part of a new measles immunization campaign, the Ministry of Health partnered with Zambia’s largest mobile phone service provider to use SMS as a tool for advocacy. The vaccination campaign was launched during this year’s Child Health Week, a massive outreach project held twice a year in clinics and communities nationwide.
“Do you have a child under 5? Act now and prevent measles during National Child Health Week 18-24 July -- Get your child immunized FREE at your nearest health centre,” read the simple message sent to all ZAIN subscribers. Out of a total of 4,165,101 mobile subscribers in Zambia, ZAIN subscribers make up 70 percent.
An official from ZAIN described how the company got involved: “The Ministry of Health, through the Lusaka District Health Management Team, requested us to help and gave us a budget and we thought we could come in with SMS. So we sent SMS to parents to encourage them to send their children for immunization.” In a show of corporate social responsibility, ZAIN donated the SMS service for the campaign.
Rise of a Preventable Disease
Zambia is currently experiencing a sharp spike in measles cases. Speaking at the launch of Child Health Week at Lusaka’s Chawama Clinic, located in a sprawling squatter township, the Minister of Health Kapembwa Simbao said: "Zambia is currently experiencing a measles outbreak and measles is among the world's most contagious diseases, which can cause severe complications such as pneumonia, diarrhea and encephalitis, among others, and death. It can easily spread through coughing and sneezing.”
The SMS campaign targeted the districts most affected by measles. Statistics for measles admissions at health care centers indicate that Zambia has reached 4,552 cases as of June. The center of the outbreak is in the capital Lusaka, reporting 3,242 admissions and 88 deaths.
High Rate of Vaccinations
After Child Health Week concluded, Ministry of Health spokesman Kamoto Mbewe said more than 90 percent children were vaccinated in the target districts. How much the SMS campaign contributed to this achievement is difficult to quantify.
“We did door-to-door campaigns and used posters, TV, radio and SMS in our campaign, so it is very difficult to tell the impact of SMS, “said Mbewe. “What I can say is that it must have significantly helped to bring people for immunization.”
Focus on Children’s Health
A popular event that offers health services and vaccines, Child Health Week is an innovative approach for reaching Zambian children. Reducing high rates of preventable illness and death among young children is an ongoing challenge for Zambia, where more than 70 percent of the population is poor.
With the support of partners like USAID, the highly publicized event supplements the health sector’s day-to-day work, with a free package of high-impact services to prevent common diseases and malnutrition in children under five.
Child Health Week is one element of a joint USAID-Ministry of Health strategy to increase access to quality health services and strengthen the overall delivery system. The strategy uses a systems approach, providing training and other support to improve planning, performance, supervision, data management and health worker retention.
The partnership is paying off. Eighty-two percent of Zambian children are now fully immunized by one; the percentage of children receiving vitamin A supplements increased from 67 to 86 percent in two years and nearly 2 million children were de-wormed last year. While still high, mortality for children under 5 has fallen 30 percent from 2002 to 2007.
Newton Sibanda has been a journalist for 17 years. Currently, he is working for the Zambia Daily Mail as Weekend Mail Editor and environmental columnist.
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Photo Courtesy of United Nations Photo.