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UNICEF helps to rebuild vaccination trust in Ukraine

© UNICEF Ukraine/2009/Sweeting
Four-year-old Dmytro Matveyvk gets examined by a nurse for his sore throat in the City Clinic of Infectious Disease Hospital in Odessa.

By Roshan Khadivi

ODESSA, Ukraine 15 October 2009 – It's a busy morning in Public Polyclinic Number Five in Ukraine's southern city where many parents have brought their children for vaccination.

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Despite this, there is an alarming trend among parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. The Ukraine Ministry of Health estimates that the number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children in the first half of this year was as high as 40 per cent.

Olga, 34, is one of many parents who have decided not to vaccinate their child.

"My husband has read many articles on the internet about dangers of vaccination and that is why I believe if the child has strong immune system, has good nutrition and normal environment which is hard to find in our country, we might be able to say that there is a chance of the child not contracting disease," she said.

Negative information

UNICEF-commissioned research shows that most parents get their information from the media and online – and when it comes to immunization, much of the information has been negative.

Last year, an extensive measles and rubella vaccination campaign was interrupted following the death of an adolescent boy in Kramatorsk. This national campaign, led by the Ministry of Health with support from the Measles Initiative, a partnership between the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, targeted nine million Ukrainians aged 15-29 who had not received adequate immunization in the period following the end of the Soviet Union.

Because of the death, only a little more than a hundred thousand were vaccinated before the campaign came to a halt.

No complications

Sceptics of vaccination, including some from the medical community who were trained during the Soviet era, believed that the young man's death was vaccine-related. But 431 people were also vaccinated in Kramatorsk during the same campaign, with no ill effects. A later investigation by the Ministry of Health and international medical experts showed that the tragic death in Kramatorsk was from septic shock due to an infection that was unrelated to the vaccination.

This month, the unused vaccine from last year's campaign, currently in quarantine across the country, will be disposed of by the government.

"UNICEF and WHO are making recommendations to Ministry of Health in Ukraine on the disposal process. It is important that it is environmentally safe and done according to International procedures and WHO guidelines and in the presence of international observers," said UNICEF Representative in Ukraine Yukie Mokuo.

Restoring trust

UNICEF Ukraine has launched a programme called 'Restoring Public Trust in Immunization.' Its goal is to support the Ministry of Health in rebuilding people's confidence by making sure that parents receive correct information.

UNICEF will support workshops on vaccination for medical workers, public health officials and medical students.

One recent event supported partly by UNICEF was the International Child Neurology Congress, held in Ukraine in mid-September, which adopted a resolution in support of immunization. This was significant because child neurologists play a critical role in parents' decisions regarding their children's immunization.

Media outreach

Next year, the programme will also involve media outreach – with training and briefings for journalists, particularly in regions where immunization rates are low. And plans are underway to build an independent web portal on vaccination as a source of accurate information for communities, media outlets and medical professionals.




UNICEF Representative Yukie Mokuo talks about efforts to get children immunized in Ukraine.
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October 14 2009: UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli reports on UNICEF-supported efforts in Ukraine  to restore public trust in vaccinations.
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