UNICEF boosted its support for the Expanded Immunization Program in Cuba

The State of the World's Children 2023 report shows a complex scenario for childhood immunization in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this context, UNICEF increased its support for the Expanded Immunization Program in Cuba.

25 April 2023
UNICEF apoya desde 1992 los esfuerzos del PAI para eliminar y evitar enfermedades que son prevenibles mediante la vacunación
Yailín Alfaro

Havana, 24 April 2023. - In its most recent The State of the World's Children 2023: For Every Child, Vaccination report, UNICEF warned that, in the last 10 years, Latin America and the Caribbean has gone from boasting one of the highest routine immunization rates in the world to having one of the lowest, with a reversion in coverage of almost 30 years. According to World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF estimates, 2.4 million children under the age of one – one in four – have not received essential vaccines and have been left unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases. This reversion is alarming, and has put the lives and development of children at risk.

Cuba has a free and universal Expanded Immunization Program (PAI), which administers 13 vaccines and exceeds 98% coverage throughout the country. Among its most relevant results is the elimination of diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis and pertussis; while other diseases, such as tetanus and meningococcal disease, are not a public health problem due to their low incidence levels.

The UNICEF Representative in Cuba, Alejandra Trossero, highlighted that the Expanded Immunization Program in Cuba did not stop, even in such a challenging context as the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the high vaccination rate in Cuba contrasts with the worrying reality shown by the State of the World's Children in the Latin American and Caribbean region, which has gone from boasting one of the highest child vaccination rates in the world to having one of the lowest. "It has been impressive to see the intense work deployed for the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, and to ensure the broad coverage of the regular vaccination program in Cuba," said Trossero.

Cuban health authorities have opted for nationally produced immunogens to face the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, 90.7% of the population has received a complete vaccination cycle, and more than 8.7 million people have been administered booster doses, according to data from the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP).

Since 1992, UNICEF has supported the PAI's efforts to eradicate and prevent vaccine-preventable diseases. In this sense, UNICEF has facilitated the acquisition of basic vaccines that are not produced in the country, equipment to maintain the cold chains (essential for adequate conservation), essential medical supplies for vaccination (syringes and safety boxes), technical capacity building of health professionals involved in the process and the promotion of messages to accompany vaccination.

In 2022, approximately 80% of children under one year of age in Cuba were immunized against measles, mumps and rubella through the acquisition of 88,000 doses of the MMR vaccine (not produced in the country), guaranteed by UNICEF Cuba, with the support of the Gran Canaria City Council and the accompaniment of the Spanish Committee for UNICEF.

UNICEF resorted to the organization's global emergency funds and the support of key donors, such as the Government of Japan, through the project "Strengthening health capacity for the COVID-19 crisis", to strengthen, together with MINSAP and other national counterparts, the cold chain of 267 general clinics in primary health care and 14 hospitals for maternal and child care, in 7 provinces of the country and the Isle of Youth special municipality. In total, these health facilities received 622 WHO pre-qualified refrigerators, with their integrated temperature controllers, 1,490 1.5-liter cold boxes and 465 6-liter cold boxes, all with their temperature controllers, plus 10,429 icepacks of 0.3, 0.4 and 0.6 liters. Likewise, the Finlay Vaccine Institute and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) benefited with 16 refrigerators prequalified by the WHO, 100 1.5-liter cold boxes, 100 6-liter cold boxes, 800 icepacks of 0.3, 0.4 and 0.6 liters and two freezers for the development of new vaccine candidates.

It is vitally important for UNICEF to ensure that routine immunization is a priority in the coming years.  Failure to act would be devastating for the lives of today's children and adolescents and tomorrow's adults, and would set back progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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