Immunization, one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, has been protecting children everywhere against common yet potentially life-threatening diseases over the past two centuries. In Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), immunization has long been a standard healthcare service in all countries, and enormous progress has been achieved.
The vaccines under the current routine immunization programmes protect children against a wide range of common childhood diseases, including tuberculosis (BCG), diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (jointly referred to as DTP), polio, measles, hepatitis b (HepB) and meningitis (Hib). Regional coverage for each of the vaccines is above 70 per cent, with many countries achieving 90 per cent of coverage for DTP3 .
In recent years, new vaccines have been introduced to ESA and developing countries around the world to protect children from pneumonia (PCV) and diarrhoea (rotavirus vaccine), two of the biggest child killers, and the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Still, many children are not reached, particularly those from the most marginalized and excluded communities. In 2011, out of the 11 million children under the age of one covered under routine immunization in all 21 ESA countries (excluding Ethiopia and South Sudan, due to lack of data), 15 per cent, or 1.7 million, were left unprotected. Most of these children were from rural and remote areas, as well as from urban slums. Children affected by conflict, and those whose families and communities refused to have them immunized, were also part of that group. Nearly 90 per cent of all un-immunized children live in eight countries – Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.
The Horn of Africa has been polio-free for years, but with the confirmation of a two-year old child infected with the virus in Somalia in May 2013, that record no longer holds. The region now faces a major polio crisis with more cases reported not only in Somalia, but also in Kenya and lately Ethiopia and South Sudan. Despite an immediate response led by the governments, with support from WHO, UNICEF and other partners, the outbreak is spreading rapidly, putting children and their families in the neighbouring countries, Uganda, Djibouti, Eritrea and Yemen, all at risk of contracting the debilitating disease.
UNICEF in action
In response to challenges in global immunization, WHO and UNICEF developed the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy (GIVS). Launched in 2006, GIVS is a 10-year framework (2006–2015) aimed at controlling illness and death from vaccine-preventable diseases, and helping countries immunize more people with a greater range of vaccines and innovative technologies.
Under GIVS, the goal for every country is to ensure that at a national level, 90 per cent of children under one year of age are reached through routine immunization, and at least 80 percent in every district or equivalent administrative unit. Another goal is to reduce deaths by measles by 90 per cent compared to the 2000 level. In addition, UNICEF, together with partners under the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), helps to introduce new and improved vaccines to all countries.
For the children who are missed during routine immunization, UNICEF and WHO use a number of strategies to close the gap, including advocacy with faith-based leaders. Bi-annual Child Health Days, which combine immunization with vitamin A supplementation, de-worming, and other health interventions, also contribute greatly to overall immunization efforts.
Results for children
 Three doses of diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus vaccine.
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