Zambia: an outbreak in progress

We’ve been posting lately about the variety of ongoing measles outbreaks in African nations.  Today we’re going to look at Zambia, perhaps the most precariously positioned of all of these nations.

Zambia, which had not had a measles death since 2003, is now undergoing a measles outbreak that has killed 78 so far, with the bulk of the outbreak in the capitol city of Lusaka.  There have been thousands of cases in many areas, including orphanages, and more than one province has reported they are in dire need of funding.  (note: other sites are reporting 88 deaths and nearly twice as many cases — we tend to trust the Unicef data, which is the most conservative)

Last year Sweden and the Netherlands suspended 33 million dollars in aid after 5 million went missing, and as recently as last month the Global Fund cut off a further 300 million in aid amidst suspicions of corruption.  Zambia’s president, Rupiah Banda, recently held a press conference and stated that, “Nobody asked anyone to come and help us Zambians … We should not allow donors to feel that they can interfere in our internal affairs … They have no right whatsoever to be peddling stories and say that ‘they have withdrawn this and that.’”

This left Ministry of Health chief, Kapembwa Simbao, in a position of having to call a separate press conference to ask the international community to continue to pledge donations to assist with curbing their measles epidemic.  “So we would want to appeal to any partner or donors to help us with the resources so that we carry out this extra activity … if we don’t take immediate measures like today we are likely to lose a lot of lives,” he said.

The World Health Organization has showed a July 18 date for nationwide Zambian SIA (Supplementary Immunization Activity) for measles on their calendar, so we have been breathlessly awaiting this date to see whether this activity would indeed take place (in many cases the hosting goverment is expected to do some amount of fund-matching … the overall calendar for Western Africa this year is 16 million dollars short).

Monday the 19th came, and we had our answer: Unicef is now undertaking (in partnership with the Zambian Ministry of Health) a nationwide inoculation exercise that includes measles, polio, and administration of vitamin A.  [Vitamin A deficiency is associated with a 50% increase in mortality, as well as significant risk of blindness in measles cases]  Unicef is attempting to reach 1.6 million children, and the Ministry of Health

Note: this is an ongoing story … we’ll update this article as Childrens’ Health Week comes to a close and we have more information as to the successes of this campaign.

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