UNICEF's role in improving immunization coverage in the Philippines
By Dr. Mariella Castillo, UNICEF Philippines Maternal and Child Health Specialist
As the maternal and child health specialist at UNICEF Philippines, I ensure that health programs for mothers and children will give every child the best possible start in life.
I have been a health professional for 22 years and from experience I know that a strong health system is important to safeguard the health of mothers and newborn babies. They need access to quality care and services that starts during pregnancy all the way to support the child's healthy growth after delivery. One of the most crucial child care practices that mothers need to know is the importance of immunization.
Immunization saves children's lives and prevents children from getting seriously ill from preventable diseases such as measles, diphtheria and tetanus, to name a few.
Although immunization coverage across the country is improving, there are still many children who are not reached by the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) of the government because of many factors – distance of health centers to remote barangays, inadequate number of health workers, misconceptions about immunization, lack of immunization outreach services and volatile peace and order situation in certain places. These factors often result in children missing out on their immunization schedule or not being immunized at all.
Globally, UNICEF supplies about 85 per cent of vaccines in various parts of the world. In the Philippines, the Department of Health buys 90 per cent of all its vaccines with the help of the UNICEF procurement system. We also support DOH in logistics management and strengthening the vaccine cold chain.
By strengthening the local health systems in the most disadvantaged provinces, we aim to help the Philippines become self-sufficient in its immunization program in a cost-effective manner, targeting the most crucial diseases affecting children. Project Eliminate: Eliminating Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus is one example of these programs.
Maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) have been among the most common lethal consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices. When tetanus develops, mortality rates are extremely high, especially when appropriate medical care is not available. And yet, maternal and neonatal tetanus deaths can be easily prevented by hygienic delivery and cord care practices, and/or by immunizing mothers with tetanus vaccine.
The MNT elimination initiative aims to reduce the number of maternal and neonatal tetanus cases to such low levels that MNT is no longer a major public health problem. Unlike polio and smallpox, tetanus cannot be eradicated (tetanus spores are present in the environment worldwide), but through immunization of pregnant and child bearing age women and promotion of more hygienic deliveries, MNT can be eliminated.
Maternal and neonatal tetanus can continue to infect women and infants if it is not prevented through immunization and access to proper birthing facilities. In coordination with the national and local government, UNICEF is helping eliminate MNT in the Philippines by supporting the immunization program.
With continued help and assistance from our donors and partners, we can achieve our goal of totally eradicating Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus in the quickest time possible.