UNICEF in action

© UNICEF/BANA2013-00138/Khan
Shishita, 10 months old, is brought to an an immunization center by her mother Shuma Rani in Palpara, Tangail on 11 March 2013.

Immunization against disease is a right.

Immunization coverage has increased dramatically since the since the launch of mass vaccination campaigns – such as the Expanded Programme on Immunization promoted by UNICEF and WHO from the mid-1970s. By 2012, approximately 83 per cent of children receive the DTP3 – three doses of the combined diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus vaccine.

Yet, nearly one in five infants is still unprotected against killer diseases because she or he has not been immunized. The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children must have equal access to adequate healthcare. Vaccination is a cornerstone of healthcare. Every child deserves vaccination.

Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2012, the international community has committed to achieve 90 per cent immunization coverage at the national level by 2020.
The global health community aims to create a world in which everyone lives free from preventable illnesses.

Working with partners

National governments hold the primary responsibility for immunization. UNICEF supports these governments to create effective plans that target unimmunized children and provide for both the cost of vaccines and for their delivery.

UNICEF also works with government donors and other partners including the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the vaccine industry, civil society groups and health institutes to help immunize every child.

As a founding member of the GAVI Alliance – a partnership to expand the use of life-saving new vaccines for children – UNICEF has helped bring new vaccines to approximately 440 million children in over 70 countries and to avert hundreds of thousands of preventable child deaths each year. 

UNICEF staff supports local health workers to create detailed plans to reach every child – especially those living in underserved and remote areas. UNICEF leads social mobilization efforts to engage communities and explain the importance of vaccination, using a tailored approach adapted to each local context. Why aren’t all children immunized?

Nearly one in five infants around the world is not immunized.

Some live in remote villages, several days’ travel from health centres, or can’t be reached for lack of roads. Conflict can make it impossible for vaccinators to access children. Others are excluded because they are from disenfranchised ethnic minorities, and yet others live in deeply impoverished city slums, where health services operate poorly – if at all. Religious or traditional beliefs can lead some communities to refuse vaccination, while others are continuously on the move, such as nomads, refugees or migrants fleeing economic strife.

A large number of children fall into several of these categories.

More than 70 per cent of the world’s unimmunized children live in ten countries: Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa. Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan are the last three countries where polio – which can paralyse a child for life – remains endemic. Conflict, difficult access and religious beliefs have made vaccinating children living in these last pockets of resistance extremely difficult, a major challenge to global efforts for a polio-free world.

Reaching every child

UNICEF supports governments to strengthen immunization programmes and enhance coverage, focusing on underserved communities and remote areas. On the ground, UNICEF trains health workers and helps local authorities to create detailed plans for reaching every child – especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

UNICEF is pioneering new technology applications via SMS and smartphones to track immunization and keep children up to date on their vaccine schedules. In countries with low immunization rates like the Republic of Congo, UNICEF and frontline health workers are using SMS to register births, follow young families and report infant vaccinations. To reach unimmunized children in Uganda, mobile phone innovations track vaccine availability, disease outbreaks, immunization coverage and quality of medical services.

In conflict situations, UNICEF collaborates with United Nations’ partners to negotiate temporary cease-fires and accept ‘Days of Tranquillity’ to give health workers access to children for vaccination campaigns. UNICEF also engages with the international and local press to relay information about where vaccinations will take place and to encourage that safe passage agreements be respected.

Engaging communities, raising awareness

Engaging communities to explain the importance of vaccination is an essential part of reaching every last child. UNICEF leads these social mobilization efforts, using a tailored approach adapted to diverse local contexts. We help bring together religious leaders of all persuasions to garner support for immunization and create demand for vaccination within communities themselves.

Leading child survival efforts, UNICEF advocates to keep immunization at the top of global and local health agendas. With the World Health Organization, UNICEF leads advocacy through World Immunization Week (celebrated annually in late April) to promote universal immunization and raise public awareness of how immunization saves lives.



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