Harare — Pregnant women and children under five years in seven areas where malaria is endemic will receive about 200 000 long-lasting treated mosquito nets acquired through a US$1,9 million grant from the Japanese government.
The beneficiaries include 150 000 children under five years and more than 50 000 pregnant women. Speaking at the signing ceremony of the grant, United Nations Children's Fund country representative Dr Festo Kavishe said the funding is also expected to boost procurement of seven routine vaccines for immunisation.
"It is through such support that today Zimbabwe can proudly talk of its successes in reducing child mortality rates and improving immunisation coverage to 80 percent," Dr Kavishe said.
He added that the money would also be used to purchase additional cold chain equipment for vaccine storage and technical support to health workers.
"Unicef will continue its work in fighting vaccine preventable diseases and preventing malaria in children and women."
Children under five and pregnant women are more vulnerable to malaria.
Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Takeo Yoshikawa said since 2006, Japan has distributed 400 000 treated nets.
"We hope that the grant being extended today will enable Zimbabwe to achieve two of the Millennium Development Goals of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2010 and combating HIV and Aids, malaria and other infectious diseases."
Speaking on behalf of the Secretary for Health and Child Welfare, Dr Edward Mabhiza, the principal director of disease prevention control, Dr Gibson Mhlanga, said the support came at the right time when the country was making frantic efforts to combat malaria.
He said the country was already preparing for the malaria season, which normally begins in January. Other Government interventions that are currently underway include in-door residual spraying and larviciding.
According to the United Nations agency reported cases of malaria have dropped by 40 percent from three million to 1,8 million last year. Treated nets have been proven to be the most effective way to prevent malaria.
Kadoma, Zaka, Hwange, Makoni, Chimanimani, Mutasa and Mt Darwin are expected to benefit from the grant.
The Japanese contribution is a top-up to another US$2,5 million donated for similar programmes in 2007. Unicef, however, noted that several challenges remain to improve the overall health situation for children and women in Zimbabwe.