Political support crucial to reach ‘the fifth child’ with vaccines
UNICEF reports one in five children still unimmunized and at risk
NEW YORK, 19 April 2013 – One and a half million children would not have died in 2011 had they been immunized, according to UNICEF at the start of World Immunization Week. But one in five children is not being reached with vital vaccines due to social or geographical exclusion, lack of resources, weak health systems or conflicts such as those raging today in Syria and parts of West Africa.
Every infant in the world needs to be immunized to better protect their health, and vaccines are estimated to save the lives of 2 to 3 million children each year – representing one of the ten greatest achievements in public health of the last century, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Immunization is also highly cost effective. For instance, it costs less than US$1 to protect a child against measles for life.
In 2011, however, 22.4 million children were not immunized – an increase of over one million from the preceding year.
UNICEF is concerned that global efforts to vaccinate every child are plateauing as funding falls and political will stagnates. In 2011, only 152 out of 193 World Health Organization member states had dedicated budget lines for immunization.
Inequalities persist within and between countries. Children from wealthy families have the greatest access to the best health services in any given country, and they enjoy the highest rates of immunization coverage.
Unless disparities are addressed every last child cannot be immunized, says UNICEF. At the same time, investment in routine immunization as part of improved health care systems will benefit all children – thus further reducing inequities. To do so, governments have to provide sufficient funding and innovation should be encouraged – such as the recent introduction of vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoea.
And, most importantly, unwavering political support is needed to extend the benefits of vaccines to children living in the poorest families and the most remote communities.
UNICEF’s unique position
At country level, UNICEF and partners support governments in optimising immunization supply chains so that cold chain equipment and logistics effectively maintain vaccines at stable temperatures at every step of storage and transportation until the child is reached. And UNICEF also works to increase community awareness and acceptance of immunization.
When emergencies occur, children are more vulnerable, and immunization campaigns become critically important. One of the first highly contagious diseases to appear in humanitarian situations is measles, outbreaks of which have been reported recently in Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The enormous impact of immunization and the challenges to vaccination are starkly apparent in the crisis in Syria. Last year, UNICEF and its partners vaccinated 1.3 million children against measles and 1.5 million against polio, and a campaign is now under way to reach 2.5 million children with measles vaccinations. However, a combination of limited funds, enormous challenges to access and mass population movements are making it harder than ever to reach every child.
Concerted efforts to immunize children have reduced or eliminated the incidence of devastating illnesses:
Note to editors
World Immunization Week is a global initiative celebrated each year in late April to promote the use of life-saving vaccines, one of the world’s most potent tools to immunize children against killer diseases.
The week is an opportunity to advocate for reaching every last child with essential vaccines, for increased funding and for improved national immunization programmes.
Some highlights include:
UNICEF will feature content on its website and in social media from immunization efforts around the world, including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan where polio remains endemic.Follow us on the web at www.unicef.org and on #vaccineswork.
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In June 2012, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States with UNICEF launched a global roadmap to end preventable deaths of children under the age of five. Since then, under the banner of Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, more than 170 countries have signed up and renewed their commitment to child survival.
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Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York, Tel: + 1 212 326 7452, Mobile: + 1 917 378 2128, email@example.com
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