- A major integrated children's health campaign has been launched in Togo. In the nationwide campaign of its kind, Togo's children are receiving four life-saving interventions at once. One million under-five children are provided with vaccines to prevent measles and polio, mosquito nets to prevent malaria and de-worming tablets.
The landmark campaign was launched yesterday by the Togolese government, in cooperation with the UN's children agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The two UN agencies celebrated the large project as "a new model for child survival in Africa."
- These health interventions complement each other perfectly, commented Suzanne Aho, Togo's Minister of Health. "Nothing like immunisation has the potential to reach this many children and the prospect of a free mosquito net is a powerful incentive that will increase coverage," she added.
The Togolese health campaign runs through to 19 December and aims to reach almost one million children around the country. Many of those live in rural areas - some completely inaccessible by road. More than US$ 5.4 million has been spent on the campaign, mostly stemming from North American donors.
In Togo, some 2680 volunteers and 1910 vaccinators have been recruited to protect all children under five with the four life-saving interventions. The Health Ministry of Togo assists in the campaign, which is coordinated by the two UN agencies.
Since 1990, Togo has made substantial efforts in measles mortality reduction. A catch-up campaign carried out in 2001 reached over 95 percent of children under fifteen years of age. Togo has reduced measles deaths by 99 percent as compared to the 1996-2001 period. The success is mostly owed to countrywide immunisation days mobilising local health committees and religious and traditional leaders to encourage mothers to bring their children for vaccination.
Despite these large improvements, almost half of Togo's children born since 2001 are still at risk from measles – a completely preventable disease that affects over 30 million children each year and kills over 540,000 worldwide. It is hoped that by combining measles vaccination with the offer of a free mosquito net and other health interventions, many more children will be reached.
In Togo, malaria is a year-round problem that threatens the entire population. It is responsible for thousands of deaths each year and 40 percent of public health expenditure. Many of these deaths could have been prevented through the use of a so-called long-lasting insecticide-treated net (LLIN).
Yet in 2003, only 15 percent of Togolese children under-five slept under a mosquito net and barely 2 percent slept under a LLIN net, according to the WHO. To date, poverty has been the major barrier to net ownership. Even though the average price of a net is only about two to five US dollars, it is still beyond the reach of poor households. During the campaign, LLIN nets are to be distributed freely.
Togo's children are also set to receive a polio vaccine to protect them against the disease that started spreading again from Northern Nigerian earlier this year. Finally, they will be given de-worming tablets to expel intestinal worms and ultimately lower the rate of parasites. "Intestinal parasites are a significant cause of malnutrition, severe anaemia, delayed puberty and problems with learning and memory," WHO says.
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