UNICEF observes World Immunization Week
By Richard Nyamanhindi
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 programs.
During World Immunization Week 2014, UNICEF, with its government and other UN partners, is raising awareness about the urgency of reaching every last child in the country and consolidating the gains that were made in 2013 that include:
One and a half million children would not have died worldwide in 2012-13 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 and weak health systems that refuses children access to health centres.
Every infant in Zimbabwe 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.
According to the 2010-11 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey, more than 35 percent of children in the country were not immunized – a significant number that needs to be improved on if we are to save every child in the country.
In addition, inequalities persist between urban and rural areas. Children from urban areas have the greatest access to the best health services, and they enjoy the highest rates of immunization coverage.
Unless disparities are addressed every last child cannot be immunized. 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, sufficient funding and innovation should be encouraged – such as the recent introduction of vaccines against the Rotavirus and the human papillomavirus.
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.