UNICEF reaches almost half of the world’s children with life-saving vaccines
– UNICEF procured 2.5 billion doses of vaccines to children in nearly 100 countries in 2016, reaching almost half of the world’s children under the age of five. The figures, released during World Immunization Week, make UNICEF the largest buyer of vaccines for children in the world. Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three remaining polio-endemic countries, each received more doses of vaccines than any other country, with almost 450 million doses of vaccines procured to children in Nigeria, 395 million in Pakistan and over 150 million in Afghanistan. UNICEF is the lead procurement agency for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Access to immunization has led to a dramatic decrease in deaths of children under five from vaccine-preventable diseases, and has brought the world closer to eradicating polio. Between 2000 and 2015, under five deaths due to measles declined by 85 per cent and those due to neonatal tetanus by 83 per cent. A proportion of the 47 per cent reduction in pneumonia deaths and 57 per cent reduction in diarrhea deaths in this time is also attributed to vaccines. Yet an estimated 19.4 million children around the world still miss out on full vaccinations every year. Around two thirds of all unvaccinated children live in conflict-affected countries. Weak health systems, poverty and social inequities also mean that 1 in 5 children under five is still not reached with life-saving vaccines. “All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are, have the right to survive and thrive, safe from deadly diseases,” said Dr. Robin Nandy, Chief of Immunization at UNICEF. “Since 1990, immunization has been a major reason for the substantial drop in child mortality, but despite this progress, 1.5 million children still die from vaccine preventable diseases every year.” Inequalities persist between rich and poor children. In countries where 80 per cent of the world’s under-five child deaths occur, over half of the poorest children are not fully vaccinated. Globally, the poorest children are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five as the richest. “In addition to children living in rural communities where access to services is limited, more and more children living in overcrowded cities and slum dwellings are also missing out on vital vaccinations,” said Nandy. “Overcrowding, poverty, poor hygiene and sanitation as well as inadequate nutrition and health care increase the risk of diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and measles in these communities; diseases that are easily preventable with vaccines.” By 2030, an estimated 1 in 4 people will live in urban poor communities, mainly in Africa and Asia, meaning the focus and investment of immunization services must be tailored to the specific needs of these communities and children, UNICEF said.
Record number of infants vaccinated in 2017
: A record 123 million infants were immunized globally in 2017, according to data released today by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. The data shows that: 9 out of every 10 infants received at least one dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine in 2017, gaining protection against these deadly diseases. An additional 4.6 million infants were vaccinated globally with three doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine in 2017 compared to 2010, due to global population growth. 167 countries included a second dose of measles vaccine as part of their routine vaccination schedule and 162 countries now use rubella vaccines. As a result, global coverage against rubella increased from 35 per cent in 2010 to 52 per cent. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in 80 countries to help protect women against cervical cancer. Newly available vaccines are being added as part of the life-saving vaccination package – such as those to protect against meningitis, malaria and even Ebola. Despite these successes, almost 20 million children did not receive the benefits of full immunization in 2017. Of these, almost 8 million (40 per cent) live in fragile or humanitarian settings, including countries affected by conflict. In addition, a growing share are from middle-income countries, where inequity and marginalization, particularly among the urban poor, prevent many from getting immunized. As populations grow, more countries need to increase their investments in immunization programmes. To reach all children with much-needed vaccines, the world will need to vaccinate an estimated 20 million additional children every year with three doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTP3); 45 million with a second dose of measles vaccine; and 76 million children with 3 doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. In support of these efforts, WHO and UNICEF are working to expand access to immunization by: Strengthening the quality, availability and use of vaccine coverage data. Better targeting resources. Planning actions at sub-national levels and Ensuring that vulnerable people can access vaccination services.
Frontline social workers provide vital support to improve health
Yura has been a social worker for many years. “When I started working in social services, I was mainly interested in family therapy,” she says . “In time, I found out that supporting communities to become resilient and self-reliant is an extremely rewarding experience.” A year ago, she joined the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria (CRWB) – a civil society organization created in 2003 to support the integration of refugees and migrants. “Guiding through people from refugee and migrant backgrounds on health-related procedures in their host country is a way to empower them to find solutions to health issues,” explains Yura. And this is particularly vital for those fleeing from armed conflicts and humanitarian crises. As they search for safety and better life opportunities, both adults and children go through many traumatic experiences as a result of often prolonged stays in refugee camps, limited access to health care, and the dangers they face as they travel through volatile areas. By the time they finally reach a safe destination, they are often in very bad physical and psychological shape. “In Bulgaria, refugee children arrive with their parents or – in some cases – unaccompanied. Psychological problems, infectious diseases, medically unobserved pregnancies and, in particular, a lack of immunization, are common problems that have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing.” Radostina Belcheva, Project Coordinator and Deputy-Chair of CRWB The CRWB partners with UNICEF Bulgaria to provide general health checks and referrals, as well as life-saving vaccines in line with children’s immunization schedules, and equips parents with information on health risks, entitlements and how to access medical services. “As part of the ‘Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South-Eastern Europe’ (RM Child-Health) project co-funded by the European Union’s Health Programme, we work with our partners to ensure that children can follow immunization plans and that their vaccination status is updated in their immunization documents. These are crucial steps in ensuring good health . ” Diana Yovcheva, Programme Officer with UNICEF Bulgaria Working directly with refugees, Yura consults families that want to access health services. “Some cases are easier than others”, she says, recalling a consultation with Ahmed*, a 45-year-old father of six children, who fled Syria in 2020 and received humanitarian status in Bulgaria. A chef by profession, Ahmed settled quite well in the host country, found a job in a restaurant and, after some time, managed to reunite with his wife, his four sons and two daughters. “Ahmed was referred to the CRWB by friends and he came in for a consultation on the immunization process with his youngest baby girl, Yasmina, only one year old” explains Yura. During their meeting, the social worker provided information about the health system in Bulgaria, the role of a general practitioner, and how people with refugee status can access medical services including vaccinations for their children. Although Ahmed’s baby girl had been vaccinated before her arrival in Bulgaria and had an immunization passport, the father urgently needed to update her vaccination status to synchronize her vaccinations with the recommendations of the national immunization calendar. “I contacted the Regional Health Inspectorate and helped Ahmed to provide the necessary documents and find a translator, as the documents were in Turkish”, says Yura. Subsequently, she helped Ahmed schedule an appointment with a medical doctor and Yasmina received her next vaccine. Parents often lack the necessary vaccination documents. According to Yura, “Sometimes children have not had any vaccinations, or they have been vaccinated in their country of origin, but their immunization cards have been lost or destroyed.” Such cases require additional consultations, research and coordination, as well as testing for antibodies and immune responses when it is not clear whether the child has been vaccinated. “By empowering parents to familiarize themselves with the immunization plans and procedures we help them become proactive in following up on their children’s health." Yura, Social worker To address the COVID-19 restrictions and keep active communication with refugees and migrants, the CRWB and UNICEF developed leaflets in Bulgarian, Arabic and Farsi with details about the health system in Bulgaria and the importance of vaccinations, and regularly provide health-related information via social media. “The role of communication in immunization is essential. Our frontline staff interact on a daily basis with beneficiaries, but we have also used other means [such as a Facebook group dedicated to health-related topics] to keep the information flow going, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic . ” Radostina Belcheva, Project Coordinator and Deputy-Chair of CRWB Logo - Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe This story is part of the Project Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe, co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union (the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative). The content of this story represents the views of the author only and is her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the European Health and Digital Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains .
With financial support from the European Union UNICEF launches the ‘RM Child-Health’ project to strengthen vulnerable refugee and migrant children’s health
– Under the Health Programme of the European Union, the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety has committed a project grant to UNICEF to support work ensuring refugee and migrant children and their families have access to quality health care and accurate health information in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Spain, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. Refugee and migrant children and their families often have more health-related risks and face a number of barriers accessing quality health care. Many children and families also live with severe emotional distress due to the trauma of fleeing home, undertaking dangerous journeys and experiencing abuse and exploitation, including sexual and gender-based violence. The global COVID19 pandemic further exacerbates these health challenges. “With the ongoing pandemic, protecting every child and adult’s right to health care and accurate heath information is paramount. This collaboration with the EU Health Programme will help ensure the most vulnerable refugee and migrant children will have better access to primary healthcare services, psychosocial support as well as violence prevention and response services,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refuge and Migrant Response in Europe, Ms. Afshan Khan. The project ‘RM Child-Health’ will help improve the health of refugee and migrant children by improving their access to life-saving immunizations, mental health and psychosocial support, gender-based violence prevention and response activities as well as maternal and newborn health care and nutrition support. Information materials on health-related risks and services available for refugee and migrant populations will be created and shared. Medical interpreters and cultural mediators will be deployed to support communication between children and families and health care providers. The project ‘RM Child-Health’ will also support training programmes so frontline health care workers can better respond to the specific needs of refugee and migrant children and their families. In parallel, national health authorities will benefit from technical support to develop, update and improve the implementation of health policies and address bottlenecks in national health systems that currently prevent refugee and migrant children from accessing services. Refugee mother feeding her baby at ADRA community centre in Belgrade. UNICEF/UNI220342/Pancic