MAPUTO– Mozambique’s Health Ministry has managed to vaccinate almost seven million children against measles and rubella, also known as German measles, in April, almost reaching its set target, according to media reports here Monday.

The first phase of the national vaccination campaign against these two diseases ran from April 9 to 15 and covered the provinces north of the Zambezi River — Niassa, Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Zambezia.

Sousa Ribe, an official with the Expanded Vaccination Programme in the Health Ministry, told the media that the target for the first phase was to vaccinate 6,935,809 children aged between six months and 14 years. At the end of the period, the vaccination teams had reached 6,863,721, which was about 99 per cent of the target.

Ribe attributed this success to the social mobilization involving community and religious leaders, and other influential figures, who encouraged mothers to take their children to the vaccination teams.

We met with community and religious leaders and explained to them the importance of vaccination for children’s health, and the implications of not vaccinating children,” he said. The message reached them in such a way that it could also be understood by other members of the community.”

The second phase will run from May 21 to 25, covering the central and southern provinces of Tete, Sofala, Manica, Inhambane, Gaza, Maputo City and Maputo Province. The target for this phase is 6,052,030 children.

Ribe said the conditions exist for the second phase to be as successful as the first. The team members have already been trained, and the vaccines are in the health units, ready for use.

This is the first time that the Health Ministry has used a single vaccine against both measles and rubella. Both diseases are highly contagious, but can be easily prevented through vaccination. Measles in particular can be lethal for young children, and no other vaccine-preventable disease causes as many deaths.

Vaccination programmes have cut the number of deaths from measles worldwide from the millions to the tens of thousands. The total known number of measles deaths in 2016 was 73,000.