In November 2011, a team from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) visited Zambia to produce a video on vaccination efforts -– their value, their implementation and the challenges they face. In the current global environment of austerity and ever-decreasing budgets, immunizations represent one of the pillars of global health that is a cost effective, proven intervention.
Beyond protecting millions of children every year from infectious diseases, vaccines often provide the backbone of the health care system. When a mother brings her child in for routine immunizations, it can be an entry point to provide her with other health services –- HIV counseling and testing, family planning information and services, and bed nets to protect her children from malaria. In this way, routine immunizations can also help the mother and the rest of the family to access health care.
However, not every mother and child is able to access these basic services. According to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), globally “1.7 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year.” In a country like Zambia, where distances are vast, basic road infrastructure is lacking and transportation is weak, reaching every child with immunizations can be very challenging. We talked to mothers who had walked for hours in very hot temperatures, often carrying a child on their backs with older children in tow, just to reach a health care facility for immunizations. Not every mother is able to travel these distances, or to make multiple journeys when more than one dose of the vaccine is required.
Myriad challenges also exist in delivering the vaccines. Among them, health care facilities often do not have sufficient numbers of trained staff to provide basic services. Despite this, there is a strong commitment to immunization programs in Zambia. The CSIS team visited the country during Child Health Week, a campaign that Zambia holds twice a year to reach more children with basic immunizations. Word of Child Health Week is spread via radio, television, community outreach workers, church leaders and schools. Recognizing that not every mother can access these services, health care workers often travel hours to reach children in remote parts of the country. In the districts we visited in Central Province, high rates of immunization coverage have been reached for measles and polio, which is due in part to the dedication of mothers and health care workers.
The CSIS video above aims to portray the complexities of immunization in Zambia and to make broader points about global immunization efforts.
-Video created by Janet Fleischman, Seth Gannon, Emma Curran and Julia Nagel