Immunization is a proven and cost-effective public health intervention, saving the lives of millions of children and protecting millions more from illness and disability. Immunization is also a wise financial investment - with every $1 invested in immunization returning an estimated $16 in health-care savings and increased economic productivity. Most countries in Europe and Central Asia have immunization coverage of 95 percent or more for three doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), often seen as the measure of national performance on immunization. However, while most national averages for DTP vaccination may be adequate, the regional average is hovering at around 92 percent, a slight decrease from the previous year, which is not high enough to ensure immunity for everyone. Over 70 percent of the region’s unvaccinated infants are from middle income countries, with Ukraine presenting the lowest coverage rate and the greatest challenge. National averages also mask disparities, with Roma children and those from other ethnic and vulnerable groups, including refugee and migrant children, all lagging behind. Measles outbreaks are a growing problem. Last year there were over 10,000 cases of measles in the region. Despite increased coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine among children (up from 63 percent in 2000 to 93 percent in 2016) more work is urgently needed, as children are not fully protected against measles unless they receive two doses. Currently, second dose coverage is at 88 percent, which does not provide adequate protection. In total, over 500,000 children in the region are still not protected against measles - a life-threatening, but easily preventable disease. There are also concerns about ‘vaccine hesitancy’ – a growing mistrust of immunization among some parents, fuelled by myths and misinformation. Such hesitancy may stem from negative media stories linking a child’s death to immunization without the full facts. It may be influenced by the region’s anti-vaccine movements, which spread anti-immunization messages. Meanwhile, measures to counter vaccine hesitancy and build parental trust in immunization are hampered by a lack of discussion with parents about its importance and the minimal risks. A baby girl receives her vaccination at a clinic in Serbia. A baby girl receives her vaccination at a clinic in Serbia. Donor support for immunization is falling in some countries that still require such support. Elsewhere, the concern is to ensure financial sustainability for immunization programmes once countries ‘graduate’ from the support provided by Gavi (The Vaccine Alliance). Ongoing reforms in some countries are affecting both the structure and financing of immunization programmes. Some countries, challenged by competing priorities at home and inaccessibly priced vaccines on the global market, experienced several vaccine shortages in 2015–2016, sometimes causing critical disruptions of services. These issues are particularly acute in middle-income countries, many of which self-procure vaccines and continue to face significant challenges in achieving financial sustainability of their immunization programmes. Some countries also lack adequate monitoring of vaccine coverage, which is critical to understand and address any gaps. As a result of such challenges, the region faces outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease, such as a polio outbreak in 2015 and an ongoing measles outbreak in Ukraine – a country where conflict and economic recession have depleted stocks of vaccines and vaccine hesitancy is reducing immunization coverage. There is also an ongoing large measles outbreak in Romania, with over 10,000 cases of the diseases and 38 deaths. During the last five years, measles outbreaks have been registered in Georgia (2013), Kazakhstan (2014), Kyrgyzstan (2015), and Tajikistan (2017). Outbreaks in one country can spread rapidly to others, signalling the interdependence and vulnerability of all countries, whatever their stage of economic development.
Saving lives one dose at a time - Immunization across Europe and Central Asia
Vaccines protect children against disease and death, saving up to 3 million lives globally every year, and are one of the most cost-effective child survival interventions. In short, #VaccinesWork. The Europe and Central Asia Region continues to enjoy overall high childhood immunization coverage and is polio-free. The benefits of vaccines, however, are spread unevenly. Too many children are still missing the protection they deserve. A mother in Serbia holds her baby during her free vaccination as part of the Serbia's national immunization plan. A mother in Serbia holds her baby during her free vaccination as part of the Serbia's national immunization plan. Of particular concern is a rebounding of measles in the region, despite a record-low of new cases in 2016, causing over 33,000 cases and 79 deaths. The largest current outbreaks have been in Romania (12,368 cases and 49 deaths including 46 children), Ukraine (16,500 cases, 13 deaths including nine children) and Serbia. Although Serbia has a long and successful tradition in child-health protection, it is currently facing a measles outbreak with nearly 5,000 cases (as of 24 April 2018) which have resulted in 15 fatalities. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health to support its response and to improve records of immunization in the future. A little boy cries as he receives a routine vaccination at a clinic in Moldova. A little boy cries as he receives a routine vaccination at a clinic in Moldova. Due to universal vaccinations of newborns in Moldova, cases of Hepatis B have dropped from 682 in 1994 to only four in 2015. However, only 89 percent of all children are immunized against all preventable diseases and UNICEF has been working with the government to precure more vaccine doses to ensure all children have access to immunizations. A young boy puts on a brave face as he receives his second dose of the MMR vaccine in Kyiv, Ukraine. A young boy puts on a brave face as he receives his second dose of the MMR vaccine in Kyiv, Ukraine. Two-thirds of the world’s unvaccinated children live in fragile countries or countries affected by armed conflict. Between 2010 and 2016, conflict-affected eastern Ukraine had the world’s second lowest coverage rate of children fully immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. The country also had the third lowest coverage rate in the world for MMR vaccine in 2016. A plane with a crate of UNICEF-labelled MMR vaccines next to it. On the 26 February, 220,000 doses of the MMR vaccine arrived in Ukraine facilitated by UNICEF. UNICEF in Ukraine is helping to fast-track the delivery of MMR vaccines, assisting the Ministry of Health to respond to the recent measles outbreak in which 14,500 people have been infected – killing 13 people including nine children. Nine-month-old Sasha gets a kiss from his mother, after receiving the diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DTP) vaccine in Kyiv. Nine-month-old Sasha gets a kiss from his mother, after receiving the diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DTP) vaccine in Kyiv. Vaccine hesitancy has also become an issue in Ukraine but UNICEF is working to change attitudes and educate people on the dangers of not vaccinating their children. “Before his birth, we decided we would give our child all the necessary vaccinations,” says Sasha's father. “When my grandmother was a child, she got polio and, although she recovered from the illness, she was disabled for life. As caring parents, we want to protect Sasha from all sorts of infections.” In Turkey, a boy receives a dose of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). In Turkey, a boy receives a dose of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). UNICEF Turkey is supporting a vaccination program, led by the Ministry of Health. The campaign has included nine rounds of polio campaigns reaching 1.4 million refugee and migrant children and Turkish children in remote provinces between 2013-2015, and the provision of additional doses of MMR, Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio and Haemophilus in 2017. A health worker vaccinates a one-year-old Syrian refugee boy at a neighbourhood health centre in Gaziantep, Turkey. A health worker vaccinates a one-year-old Syrian refugee boy at a neighbourhood health centre in Gaziantep, Turkey. UNICEF has also helped produce and disseminate information materials, in both Turkish and Arabic, to raise awareness about the importance of being immunized. A young baby receives her vaccination injection in Uzbekistan. In Uzbekistan, four-month-old Ziyoda receives a dose of the new polio vaccine - 'Inactivated Polio Vaccine’ (IPV) - which is designed to help stop polio globally. Despite Uzbekistan having an almost 99 percent coverage rate of the Polio vaccine, UNICEF continues to work with the Government to ensure that no child is left unimmunized in the future. A group of women wait for their children to be vaccinated at a village clinic in Uzbekistan. A group of women wait for their children to be vaccinated at a village clinic in Uzbekistan. Ensuring vaccination levels are high in every country across the region is essential. UNICEF is working to ensure all children are protected against the spread of vaccine-preventable childhood diseases and the best defence is a vaccine-protected population and a strong and responsive health system. The whole region benefits when ALL countries achieve and maintain high vaccine coverage at both national and subnational levels.
Breastfeeding: the best gift a mother can give her child
Breastmilk saves lives, protects babies and mothers against deadly diseases, and leads to better IQ and educational outcomes, yet rates of breastfeeding in Europe and Central Asia are low, with only 23 percent of the wealthiest families and 31 percent of the poorest breastfeeding up to the recommended age of two. Empowering and enabling women to breastfeed needs to be at the heart of countries’ efforts to keep every child alive and to build healthy, smart and productive societies. “Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother, rich or poor, can give her child, as well as herself,” said Shahida Azfar, UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director. “We must give the world’s mothers the support they need to breastfeed.” A mother breasfeeds her baby at a maternity centre in Tashkent region, Uzbekistan. A mother breasfeeds her baby at a maternity centre in Tashkent region, Uzbekistan. The early initiation of breastfeeding – putting newborns to the breast within the first hour of life – safeguards infants from dying during the most vulnerable time in their lives. Immediate skin-to skin contact and starting breastfeeding early keeps a baby warm, builds his or her immune system, promotes bonding, boosts a mother’s milk supply and increases the chances that she will be able to continue exclusive breastfeeding. A mother learns to breastfeed her baby at a maternity hospital in Fergana, Uzbekistan. A mother learns to breastfeed her baby at a maternity hospital in Fergana, Uzbekistan. Breastmilk is safe as it is the right temperature, requires no preparation, and is available even in environments with poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. It’s also more than just food for babies – breastmilk is a potent medicine for disease prevention that is tailored to the needs of each child. The ‘first milk’ – or colostrum – is rich in antibodies to protect babies from disease and death. A patronage nurse teachers a mother how to breastfeed in Kyzylorda city, Kazakhstan. A patronage nurse teachers a mother how to breastfeed in Kyzylorda city, Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, UNICEF has been working with patronage nurses to support mothers to breastfeed their children. The project has been running for several years and includes two visits during pregnancy and nine visits until the child reaches the age of three. As a result, there was a 14 percent increase in the number of children who were exclusively breastfed in the pilot region. A patronage nurse visits a family in Kyzylorda city, Kazakhstan. A patronage nurse visits a family in Kyzylorda city, Kazakhstan. There are several reasons why a mother may not be able to breastfeed, or does not wish to do so. Reasons include low awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and long-term impacts, as well as not knowing how to breastfeed properly which can subsequently cause the mother a lot of pain. Patronage nurses work with mothers to try to overcome these obstacles. A mother breastfeeds her baby, while the father and the older son support them. Mother Jovana breastfeeds her son Aleksa (two-months-old) while older son Ognjen (18-months-old) and husband Nikola support her at a clinic in Serbia. Breastfeeding is not a one-woman job. Women who choose to breastfeed need support from their governments, health systems, workplaces, communities and families to make it work. UNICEF urges governments, the private sector and civil society to create more enabling environments for breastfeeding mothers including arming mothers with the knowledge to make informed decisions, and providing them with the support they need from their families, communities, workplaces and healthcare systems to make exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months happen. Smiling parents watch as their baby breastfeeds at a maternity unit in Armenia. Smiling parents watch as their baby breastfeeds at a maternity unit in Armenia. In Armenia, UNICEF, together with the ministry of health and local health authorities, have created a sustainable parental education system at maternity and primary health-care facilities across the country to encourage breastfeeding and provide support to parents. In a UNICEF-supported space for refugee and migrant families, two mothers breastfeed their babies. In a UNICEF-supported space for refugee and migrant families in Serbia, two mothers breastfeed their babies. During the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, UNICEF stepped in to provide support for children and mothers. Support included providing private spaces for breastfeeding mothers, nutritional guidance and breastfeeding support. UNICEF supports action to improve infant and young child nutrition across Europe and Central Asia, aiming to ensure that every child has the best possible nutritional start in life. Through its global campaign, Every Child ALIVE , which demands solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns, UNICEF urges governments, the private sector and civil society to: Increase funding and awareness to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through the age of two. Put in place strong legal measures to regulate the marketing of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes as well as bottles and teats. Enact paid family leave and put in place workplace breastfeeding policies, including paid breastfeeding breaks. Implement the ten steps to successful breastfeeding in maternity facilities, and provide breastmilk for sick newborns. Ensure that mothers receive skilled breastfeeding counselling at health facilities and in the first week after delivery. Strengthen links between health facilities and communities, so that mothers are ensured of continued support for breastfeeding. Improve monitoring systems to track improvements in breastfeeding policies, programmes and practices.