UNICEF handed over 223 refrigerated vehicles to the Government of Uzbekistan
Today, UNICEF handed over 223 refrigerated vehicles to the Government of Uzbekistan. The vehicles support the Government’s efforts to strengthen the country’s immunization cold chain and will ensure vaccines are kept at optimal cold temperatures needed to retain their effectiveness when are delivered to regional and district health centres across the country. Uzbekistan’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Behzod Musaevm, accompanied by the Minister of Health, Dr. Abdukhakim Khadjibaev, presided over the handover ceremony was, noted that the consignment of vehicles was timely. Earlier, the Government of Uzbekistan had announced the first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, was due to arrive in coming days. UNICEF Representative, Mr. Munir Mammadzade said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated UNICEF’s push for to make vaccines available to all within the framework of the Health System Strengthening Programme.” The vehicles are valued at more than USD 2 million and was supported by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Over the last 3 years UNICEF and partners have invested nearly USD 20 million to support the Ministry of Health to strengthen the country’s national immunization programme. UNICEF supported the construction of vaccine warehouses at national, regional and district levels, helped procure and install cold rooms, freezers and refrigerators, and vehicles to transport of vaccine. As well, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Health in the development of Uzbekistan’s vaccine logistic management information system. The current efforts are historically significant and will improve the national immunization system and in the context of COVID-19 vaccination roll-out, and well beyond. COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, civil society organisations, manufacturers, and others.
Going for a vaccination with my cousin Emina
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt, it just stings a little. It’s easier if you look the other way,” says Emina to Irma as they fix each other’s hair. This is an important day for Irma Fafulić, who has already prepared a clothing combination to wear and asks us to wait for her while she changes in another room. Both girls soon return to the living room of Irma’s humble home, dressed up and with their hair done to their liking, but now they are faced with another dilemma: they are not sure if their protective facemasks will match the rest of their outfits so they deliberate on which one to wear to the vaccination point. The atmosphere in the living room of the Fafulić family in the village of Varda near Kakanj is almost festive: they are visited by Edin Sejdić, mediator from the Kakanj-based Roma Support Centre “Romalen”. Six-year-old Emina and her mother Fatima Dedić from Visoko are currently visiting the Fafulić family, so the girls have been inseparable for days. “I call her sister even though we’re actually cousins, and I’m a little older than Emina,” says Irma with a smile full of crooked milk teeth and explains that she has completed her second grade online due to the COVID-19 situation. Now, she says, she is deservedly enjoying her school holidays after a very challenging period when she had to compete with other relatives for access to a single shared mobile device so that she could attend her online classes. When asked what she liked most about school this year, she retorts right off the bat: “My teacher Dženita!” The rest of the Fafulić-Dedić household listens attentively to Edin, whom they have known for a long time, and who has stopped by today to escort their Irma to the local health centre for a vaccination. Statistics show that only four percent of Roma children in BiH are vaccinated Roma girl UNICEF/ Majda Balić Raising awareness about the importance and effectiveness of immunization in Roma communities is one of the regular activities implemented by the Kakanj-based Roma Support Centre “Romalen” Edin is kind of a link between the health-care system and the residents of this small community, and as a true man of the people, he explains the advantages of immunization, dispelling misconceptions and rebutting arguments of even the most fervent opponents of vaccination in the audience. He is one of the 16 mediators trained to do outreach work and help Roma communities with vaccination procedures in four cantons with sizeable Roma population (Zenica-Doboj, Sarajevo, Central Bosnia and Tuzla). Raising awareness of the importance and effectiveness of immunization in Roma communities is one of the regular activities implemented by the Kakanj-based Roma Support Centre “Romalen” under the project Immunization for Every Child in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), in cooperation with UNICEF BiH. Edin is a link between the health-care system and the residents of this small community. Edin is a link between the health-care system and the residents of this small community. He admits that doing outreach work is not always easy, adding that people often confuse going to the doctor for an injection for receiving vaccines, and that there are still those who remain unconvinced of the benefits of immunization. But Edin has a way with people, patiently walking them through the entire process, emphasizing benefits and dispelling fears. By the end of the project, as many as almost 1500 families in the four cantons will have been informed about the benefits and effectiveness of immunization, as well as vaccination procedures and options. Mediators like Edin also provide assistance by escorting the youngest members of the community to vaccination points. “Thanks to this project, you can also retroactively receive the vaccines you missed,” says Edin, adding that many Roma are not at all aware of what needs to be done, or when. Mediators are therefore an invaluable asset to the community as they motivate, inform and mobilize people, and prepare the ground for the child’s immunization. Each mediator has a vaccination schedule for every child, and reminds parents when it is time to go to a health facility. Mediators are carefully selected from among their communities, they are persons of trust, and are usually involved in supporting the community through other projects – so they are familiar to the people they interact with and have already gained trust of the local residents. The same is true of the Fafulić family, who are now ready to have their Irma vaccinated after receiving relevant information from Edin. Mujo Fafulić Mujo Fafulić, president of the Kakanj-based Roma Support Centre “Romalen” “Roma mediators have a vital role to play in Roma communities. Statistics show that only four percent of Roma children in BiH are vaccinated. This project aims to raise this immunization rate, even using statistics on the mortality of unvaccinated children as one of the arguments,” explains Mujo Fafulić, president of the Kakanj-based Roma Support Centre “Romalen”, the organization implementing the project. “These are one-on-one conversations, with mediators visiting communities to check on the spot what the vaccination rates are and whether children are vaccinated at all, as well as which vaccines they have received, while also motivating parents to have their children immunized if they have not done so before. "By the time they reach adulthood, children should complete the vaccination cycle, and mediators are doing outreach work to explain the benefits of on-schedule immunization, as well as the adverse consequences of failing to do so." Mujo Fafulić Emina has already received the vaccines scheduled for her age, and she confidently shares her last words of advice with her cousin Irma before they leave, so that there are two parallel conversations going on in the living room – adults talk about the benefits of immunization and health care, and the little girls, holding hands, have their own conversation about what the needle looks like and where on the hand the nurse will give Irma a jab. Rubbing their hands with disinfectant, with their facemasks on, the girls extend their hands to the mediator, ready to go – Emina, being more experienced, will escort Irma to help her go through this whole experience as painlessly as possible. Irma’s parents Jasmina and Nermin are staying at home and waving to the girls from the window. Holding hands, with their fingers intertwined in a clasp that shows care and love, the children set out together on their trip to the health centre. The trip they are taking is one that is recommended to everyone as it promises better health and protection against diseases that are still lurking about and are far from being eradicated. Dr. Rownak Khan, UNICEF Representative in BIH confirms that by saying: “Vaccination is the best protection from communicable diseases. Unfortunately, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s low immunization rates, 68% full immunization and only 4% among Roma children, mean that children in this country are at high risk of getting vaccine preventable diseases resulting in outbreaks, particularly measles outbreaks. Currently, UNICEF is working with two Roma NGOs, Kali Sara and Romalen, to raise awareness on the importance of vaccination in Roma communities, by connecting with health institutions, Public Health Institutes and ministries with Roma communities through Roma health mediators to reach the most vulnerable children. This will also reduce equity gaps and will protect all children in BiH from vaccine-preventable diseases.” All children, regardless of the country or circumstances in which they live, have the right to develop and thrive. As a key component of the human right to health, immunization saves millions of lives and protects children against vaccine-preventable diseases. Immunization saves two to three million lives each year. Vaccines now protect more children than ever before, but nearly one in five infants miss out on the basic vaccines they need to stay alive and healthy. Low immunization levels among poor and marginalized children compromise gains made in all other areas of maternal and child health. This material is produced within the initiative Increase awareness on the importance of vaccination with special focus on Roma communities - Immunization for every child! UNICEF Country Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s programme on immunization, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through UNICEF Headquarters. We would also like to thank UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office for their support.
Vaccinations with a smile in Uzbekistan
Baby Imona is visiting the clinic, but there is no fear or tension, because Nurse Aziza Abduazimova knows how to put her and her parents at ease. Aziza’s open face and sweet, cheerful manner make all of the children she meets comfortable. “I always meet babies with a smile. Then I answer all of the parents’ questions about vaccinations so that they feel they can trust me with their child’s health. I make the child comfortable, and chat and play with them. I use toys to create a relationship before vaccinating them.” Aziza has been immunising children at Polyclinic #47 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for six years now. She says that she loves her job. “I’m a mother myself. I have three sons aged 15, 12 and 10 years old who are all vaccinated and growing up healthy. I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation in getting my children vaccinated, and I am happy to help other mothers raise strong and healthy kids.” Aziza believes that it’s much better to vaccinate a child and prevent a disease than treat the sometimes-serious consequences of an illness. “Polio can cause permanent paralysis. Mumps, a common childhood disease, can make boys infertile, and measles can be fatal. It’s not just the consequences for the individual, either. A child who hasn’t been vaccinated is putting everyone else at risk, including babies and unvaccinated adults.” Nurse Aziza Abduazimova administers the polio vaccine to baby Imona. Nurse Aziza Abduazimova administers the polio vaccine to baby Imona. However, despite all the evidence about the safety of vaccines to prevent serious disease, some parents are still hesitant. “It’s a natural urge for a mother to protect her baby, and some mothers are scared to cause their baby the pain of an injection,” Aziza says. “Believe me, when I first started this job, I used to cry along with the babies, but then I realised that by causing this brief moment of pain, I’m preventing a lot of future suffering.” Some parents read things on the internet that scare them. Aziza says, “I follow a lot of discussions on the web and I often post evidence to prove that they needn’t worry. All the vaccines used in Uzbekistan meet international standards.” Aziza recalls a young mother who didn’t vaccinate her first son. “He got every childhood disease, one after the other, including Hepatitis A. With my encouragement she decided to vaccinate her younger son. He has grown up very healthy. Now when people see them together, they assume the younger one is older because he wasn’t sick as often, he’s so much taller and stronger than his brother. His mother tells everyone her story. She says, ‘If I’d had my older son vaccinated, I wouldn’t have gone through all these troubles.’” Aziza helps parents who have concerns about vaccinations to meet mothers and fathers with children who have been fully immunised. “Peer to peer conversations are really helpful because parents trust fellow parents and they can see the results.” She believes being a good vaccinator isn’t just about following procedures but having the right attitude: “There was one lady who came from outside our clinic’s catchment area. She was surprised to find me so cheerful and friendly. In her previous experiences staff had been professional, but she told me my friendliness has made such a difference to her children; now they feel at ease during and after vaccinations. It makes such a difference how you treat people." "Children pick up a lot from how you deal with them—they connect with a smile.” - adds Aziza. Nurse Aziza puts baby Imona at ease with a toy after administering a vaccine. With toys and smiles, baby Imona is at ease after receiving a vaccine. “My main message to parents would be to follow the vaccination calendar. Don’t wait or delay; it has been developed to protect against the most common diseases in this country and vaccinating on time gives your child the best protection.” Aziza gives baby Imona a last cuddle. She smiles, “Parents share the hope that their child will grow up healthy. In my work as a vaccinator, I can help make that happen.” UNICEF in Uzbekistan trains health professionals across the country to vaccinate children and works closely with the Government to ensure the vaccine system is safe and can reach all children with life-saving immunizations.
Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on children and families in the Western Balkans and Turkey
There is abundant evidence that children bear a heavy burden resulting from disrupted essential services, increased social isolation, and loss of family income. In pandemic times, parents and caregivers are more likely to feel overwhelmed with providing stimulation and care for their young children and delay seeking prompt medical attention for children. Childhood immunization and other basic services were often suspended. School closures can mean a year of lost learning and children become more susceptible to dropping out. Uncertainties have created family distress, which contributes to serious mental health issues, especially among children who are vulnerable to violence and abuse. The pandemic has deepened pre-existing vulnerabilities of children with disabilities and children living in poverty. In 2021, UNICEF and the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations launched a two-year initiative to