Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore on the disruption of immunization and basic health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic
: “Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health services as health workers are diverted to support the response. “Physical distancing is leading parents to make the difficult decision to defer routine immunization. “Medical goods are in short supply and supply chains are under historic strain due to transport disruptions. Flight cancellations and trade restrictions by countries have severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines. “As the pandemic progresses, critical life-saving services, including immunization, will likely be disrupted, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East where they are sorely needed. “At the greatest risk are children from the poorest families in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters. “We are particularly concerned about countries that are battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks while responding to COVID-19 cases, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and South Sudan. Not only would such outbreaks tax already stretched health services, they could also lead to additional loss of lives and suffering. At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. “The message is clear: We must not allow lifesaving health interventions to fall victim to our efforts to address COVID-19. “UNICEF is committed to supporting basic health care and immunization needs in the worst affected countries, and to doing so in a way that limits the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We are working hard to ensure adequate vaccine supplies are available in countries that need them. We are in close communication with global vaccine suppliers to ensure production is not disrupted and supply is managed in the best possible manner under these difficult circumstances. We are also providing greater support to governments to continue the supply of vaccines during this pandemic. “In the days to come, governments may have to temporarily postpone preventive mass vaccination campaigns in many places to ensure that the delivery of immunization services does not contribute to COVID-19 spread, and to follow recommendations on physical distancing. “UNICEF strongly recommends that all governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunization activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control. These vaccination activities must focus on children who will miss vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children. To successfully roll-out vaccines against COVID -19 when they become available, we need to ensure that our immunization programmes remain robust and can reach those that will need these vaccines the most. “Immunization remains a life-saving health intervention. As the world's biggest buyer and supplier of vaccines, UNICEF will continue to play a pivotal role in supporting governments’ current and future immunization efforts.” Nurse Milka Babic performs immunization UNICEF/UNI218376/Pancic
Protecting children against measles in Romania
Parents living in Strehaia, a Roma community in South-West Romania, nod and smile in relief after watching a short video shown by their local physician on the benefits of immunizing their children. The physician answers questions from the parents before they gather their children and move to the next room where all of the children are vaccinated. The children range in age from young toddlers to 18 years old. The young ones hold their mothers’ hands tightly, but the older ones laugh and ask to watch the film again. The film is part of UNICEF Romania’s ongoing support to the Ministry of Health’s efforts to increase immunization coverage and prevent the spread of measles. Vaccination coverage in Romania has declined since 2000. In 2017, only 75 per cent of children had received two doses of Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine – a coverage rate far below the recommended 95 per cent needed to protect all children. As a result of low immunization coverage, Romania has experienced a measles outbreak, with over 15,000 people affected since 2016. This includes 59 deaths, the majority being children. As part of ongoing efforts to increase immunization coverage, in July 2018 Romania’s Ministry of Health launched a door-to-door catch up campaign to vaccinate children who missed their vaccinations. In support, UNICEF developed a series of materials to provide parents with easy to understand, factual information about the benefits and process of children being immunized. These materials include the short film watched by families in Strehaia. The film is shown to parents and families in the most vulnerable communities in Romania - people living in hard to reach areas, those affected by poverty, and Roma communities. These communities often have children with the lowest rates of immunization. The film talks about the necessity and benefits of vaccination and, at the same time, addresses the most common vaccine-related questions from parents: Is it safe to vaccinate my child? What if she/he catches another disease? What if my child gets sick after the vaccination? Is the vaccine free of charge? A girl is vaccinated at a community center in Buhuși, in Eastern Romania as part of the UNICEF and WHO supported immunization catch-up campaign. A girl is vaccinated at a community center in Buhuși, in Eastern Romania as part of the UNICEF and WHO supported immunization catch-up campaign. “In the beginning parents did not want to vaccinate their children, but then they put their trust in us. We told them vaccines are good and we encouraged them to ask the doctor all the questions they have during the campaign. So they were able to have a clear picture on the benefit of vaccination,” said Gabriela Stan, a health mediator in the town of Buhuși, in Eastern Romania. Gabriela was part of the team that went door-to-door to inform parents from vulnerable communities about the benefits of vaccination. Although there have been positive developments in reaching vulnerable children with lifesaving MMR immunizations over the past few months in Romania, until the coverage rate reaches 95 per cent, children will remain at risk.
Europe and Central Asia has surpassed global progress on child mortality, more than halving the deaths of children under five and infants since 1990. And as progress for the poorest households has accelerated, the health gap between the richest and poorest has narrowed. However, persistent inequities reflect a continued failure to invest effectively in child-centred health systems for all. In South-East Europe, for example, child mortality among the Roma population is two to three times higher than national averages. Problems missed at an early age can be more difficult and expensive to address later in life. Such inequities are compounded by a failure to spot problems during pregnancy and during the first 1,000 days of life, when children’s bodies and brains build the foundations for their life-long development. Problems missed at an early age can be far more difficult and expensive to address later in life. Across the region, more than half of the children who die before their fifth birthday die in their first month of life.These deaths are often the result of conditions that are readily preventable or treatable at low cost through, for example, access to good obstetric, ante-natal and post-natal care, routine immunization and exclusive breastfeeding . The main killers of children under the age of five in the region are also preventable: pneumonia and injuries. Emergencies have an intense impact on child health and nutrition. The impact of emergencies on children's health and nutrition can be extreme. Children on the move, such as those caught in Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis , for example, often lack adequate clothing, food, shelter or warmth. Access to health services, including immunization, has often been inadequate on their journey. The region’s existing HIV prevalence, coupled with lack of safe water and sanitation, as well as ongoing challenges related to early child development and protection all heighten the vulnerability of children during emergencies. The region is also experiencing vaccine ‘hesitancy’ – the reluctance of some parents to immunize their children, or parental delays in immunization . This hesitancy, often fuelled by misinformation, puts children at risk of contracting, and even dying from, infectious diseases, including polio and measles.
Turning every “no” into a “yes” to protect children from the current measles outbreak in Romania
Over 19,000 people in Romania have been diagnosed with measles since 2016. To date, 64 people have died – 58 of them children. The outbreak is the result of a drop-in immunization coverage over the past two decades, with many parents fearful of vaccination, due to the spread of misinformation. For example, the proportion of children who have received a second dose of the measles vaccine – which is needed to adequately protect a child form the deadly disease - dropped from 97 per cent in 2000 to 76 per cent in 2016. It was only after UNICEF started re-engaging in the national measles programme that this drop was stopped, and the coverage is currently up 5 percent from 2016 for the second dose. UNICEF focused on improving immunization awareness of the general public via TV, radio and social media, as well as on redesigning the national electronic vaccination registry, on conducting catchup immunization campaigns in areas with extremely low coverage, and on improving behavior and communication skills of local health workers on immunization. Besides these actions, UNICEF supported teams of health and social workers in 45 communities in Bacău county, in eastern Romania. Their interventions focus on providing a minimum package of community-based health services, including access to vaccination, to save and improve children’s lives. Adina and Didina are two mothers who have been reached by these community-based teams, and whose children are now fully immunized against the disease. The initiative relies on the work of health professionals such as Gabi Stan and social workers like Magda Grigoriu to build trust with families. Delia and Mario are the first children to come home from school, followed by Alberto at 2 pm and Petrina at 3 pm. All four children do their homework at this small table with their mother Adina. Delia and Mario are the first children to come home from school, followed by Alberto at 2 pm and Petrina at 3 pm. All four children do their homework at this small table with their mother Adina.
As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to enter a new phase, UNICEF reminds the world that ‘the light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all’
“COVID-19 is the first truly global crisis we have seen in our lifetimes. No matter where we live, the pandemic affects every one of us. Children have been seriously impacted. However, with more news about promising vaccines, and as we begin to imagine a day when COVID-19 is behind us, our guiding principle must be that the light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all. “This is why UNICEF has enthusiastically joined the Advance Market Commitment of the COVAX Facility to allow low- and lower-middle income countries access to COVID-19 vaccines. It is the best way to make sure that, as vaccines become available, no country is pushed to the back of the line. This would not only be fundamentally unfair, it would be unwise. The whole world will remain vulnerable to the virus until countries with the weakest health systems are protected from it as well. “In order for the COVAX Facility to work and guarantee equitable and affordable access to low- and lower-middle income countries, we need a global commitment to support and capitalize it, but also to finance the delivery of vaccines and associated supplies such as syringes and safety boxes. Governments must work together to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are affordable and accessible to all countries. High-income countries should invest financially in the Advance Market Commitment and in UNICEF’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery efforts. All countries should take a strong stand against export controls on – and unnecessary stockpiling of – commodities for the COVID-19 response. “UNICEF is also leveraging our unique strengths in community engagement and vaccine supply to make sure that countries participating in the COVAX Facility have safe, fast and equitable access to the vaccine. This is an enormous undertaking and many challenges still lay ahead. As the largest vaccine buyer in the world, procuring more than 2 billion doses annually for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries, UNICEF is c oordinating and supporting the procurement, international freight , and in-country distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for the COVAX Facility. “Together with WHO, PAHO, GAVI and other partners at the global and regional levels, UNICEF is also working to support countries to ‘ready’ their immunization programmes for this historic roll-out. This includes assessing capacity and helping countries to strengthen their cold and supply chains so that they have adequate infrastructure to transport and store the vaccines for delivery to the frontlines. “However, the existence of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine alone will not end the pandemic. We need a diverse set of tools to help slow the spread of COVID-19, including diagnostics and treatments, as well as a continuance of preventive measures such as hand washing, physical distancing and mask wearing. UNICEF is providing governments with access to personal protective equipment, validated testing approaches, and proven treatments. In addition, UNICEF continues to work with multilateral partners to support governments with infection prevention control, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, physical distancing, surveillance, contact tracing, case identification and community referral systems to stem the pandemic. “Lastly, we continue to help countries ensure the continuity of key essential services for women, children and young people – especially the most vulnerable. COVID-19 related disruptions have had a heavy impact on children: on their safety, their well-being, their future. Even as the fight against the disease enters into a hopeful new phase, we must not forget the work ahead of us to respond, recover and reimagine a better world for children.” ###
Improving health literacy among refugee and migrant children
UNICEF has worked with partners and with young refugees and migrants on the ground to identify information gaps – work that has, in turn, guided the development of health literacy packages across all five countries on a range of crucial health issues, from immunization and nutrition to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and gender-based violence (GBV). The assessment has shaped the development of detailed plans on how to ensure that health messages reach their audience and have an impact. The health literacy packages have also drawn on existing materials, including Facts for Life , My Safety and Resilience Girls Pocket Guide and an adapted version of the UNFPA curriculum: ‘Boys on the Move’. Refugees and migrants face a chronic lack of health information in their own languages, and a lack of information that reaches them through the channels or people they trust health navigation Some common priorities have been identified by refugees and migrants across all five countries, including access to immunization and other primary health care services, breastfeeding and young child feeding, and the prevention of GBV. They have also flagged up the pressing need for more mental health and psychological services. Other issues have emerged as priorities in specific countries, including cyberbullying and online safety in Italy, and substance abuse among young people In Serbia – the focus of a new in-depth UNICEF study. Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic is a new and urgent priority for refugee and migrant communities – and one that has heightened the health risks they already face by curtailing their movements and their access to health services. A consultation with refugee and migrant adolescents and young people living in Italy has revealed major gaps in their knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, drawing on an online survey, a U-Report poll and a series of focus group discussions. It has highlighted some common misunderstandings, such as the myth that masturbation causes infertility, and continued perceptions around the importance of a woman’s virginity at marriage, as well as knowledge gaps around menstruation, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The consultation also found, however, that the young participants want to know far more about this crucial area of health. As one young man from Guinea noted during a focus group discussion: “often young people do not want to know if they have an infection, also because they are not aware that these can be treated. It is so critical to raise awareness on STIs tests and treatment options.”
A Mother and baby corner - a place of health and serenity
“Milos was born at a Reception centre, here in Serbia. We have been changing addresses ever since. We are currently staying at the Asylum centre in Belgrade. These are all difficult circumstances, where I, as a mother, don’t set the rules. And I find it very difficult.” Mother with a baby Sharife and her son Shahir Milos in the mother and baby corner in Belgrade, Serbia. That’s why Sharife is happy every time she visits the Mother and baby corner. The nearby Community centre, run by the humanitarian organization ADRA, houses just such a mother and baby corner, whose work is supported by UNICEF through 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). Here, mothers can spend time in a safe space for women, change their babies’ clothes and nappies, access hygiene items for their children, breastfeed in privacy and put their children down for naps, as well as participate in workshops. And most importantly, because they are living in challenging circumstances, they can talk to a doctor about the nutrition, hygiene and early childhood development and immunization of their small child, but also about their own health and the health of older children. This is particularly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Milos is learning through play in the Mother and baby corner. Milos is learning through play in the Mother and baby corner. The first piece of advice that mothers receive in the Mother and baby corner is always about breastfeeding – a source of food that is always available, hygienically safe and nutritious, and which boosts a child's immunity. “Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs, but it also stimulates development [and] develops immunity. It helps the child to calm down, sleep better and be settled. This also helps me be calm,” explains Sharife with a smile on her face. Sharife is an experienced mother. Even so, she is very grateful for the advice she has received from the doctor at the Mother and baby corner. When Milos was six months old, she introduced solid food into his diet, while she continued to breastfeed. She recalls that Milos’s first solid food was rice cereal, and then later on vegetables, fruits and meat. The Mother and baby corner is a safe space where Milos and his mother can spend quality time together. The Mother and baby corner is a safe space where Milos and his mother can spend quality time together. “Milos likes best the carrot and apple puree I make for his snack,” explains Sharife. The needs of refugee and migrant women, according to social worker Andja Petrovic, have shaped the development of ADRA’s Community centre, where they would, as a rule of thumb, almost always come with their children. In order for women to be able to attend creative, recreational and educational workshops at the Women's centre, they needed a Child-friendly space for older children and a Mother and baby corner for women with infants. These spaces make it possible for mothers to participate in language classes, sports activities, creative workshops and, most importantly, in workshops about women's health and rights, while their children are taken care of and safe. In these challenging times, mothers really appreciate the chance to talk to a doctor about the health status of their children. “The most important thing is that all the advice from our doctor is in line with their economic circumstances and current living situation [in Reception centres],” explains Andja. “The advice is tailored to their life and I think they particularly like that, because they can see that their situation is acknowledged. Because when they go to a doctor [in other facilities], they get advice that they can’t follow because they don’t have the [living] conditions for that.” Dr Zivica Lukic explains that she talks to mothers mostly about nutrition, hygiene and how to respond to their babies’ needs. “We support mothers to establish and maintain breastfeeding, as it has not only economic benefits, but for mothers it also has emotional and physical ones. We know how healthy breastfeeding is for the child, but it is equally healthy for the mother, because it soothes and creates a strong bond between mother and child. When the baby is six months old, it’s necessary to introduce solid foods. I advise [the introduction of] vegetables that can be pureed well, such as potatoes and carrots, [as well as] rice.”
“I’d settle for a year being sick, as long as it’s not her, not for a single day”
Little Varya was 3 years old when Alexei and Nastya Naumov adopted her from an orphanage. They had long dreamed of children, when they found this girl who looked so much like Alexei Naumov. Nothing could stop them: neither difficulties, nor Varyusha's diagnosis – HIV, which the orphanage told them about right away. Varya Varya at the New Year celebration Nastya and Alexei decided that they wouldn’t conceal their now 9 year old daughter’s diagnosis. It is better to put all the cards on the table, than constantly have to look over their shoulder, they say. The parents always emphasize: they have never regretted their decision. In November 2018, when Varya was in the first grade, she fell ill with scarlet fever. The family had just moved to Almaty from Atyrau. Nastya Naumova brought her daughter to two pediatricians, but they did not suspect anything. And then their infectious disease specialist at the AIDS center confirmed the diagnosis. ‘Guys, you have scarlet fever,’ she said. “It seemed to me that this was a forgotten disease, that it is simply impossible. Varya has recovered, but I was still afraid. And as it turned out, not in vain,” says Nastya. The Naumovs were warned that live vaccines are contraindicated for a child with HIV. “I was afraid that Varya would get infected,” Anastasia says. “I didn’t know how the virus would work with her diagnosis, how it would affect the body. And, thank God, for a long time she was able to avoid infection. But, as it turned out, not measles.” In Kazakhstan all children diagnosed with HIV usually receive a medical contraindication for vaccination, which applies to the so-called live vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella. Although in accordance with the WHO clinical protocol, a vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and other measles-containing vaccines (MCV) should be considered for HIV-infected patients who are asymptomatic or mildly immunosuppressed, as per the routine national schedule. For infants with high risk of exposure to the measles virus, an additional dose of single-antigen measles vaccine administered at 6–11 months of age is recommended, followed by a first dose of routine MMR or another MCV at age 12 months or older (with a minimum interval of 1 month between doses).1 Parents can learn more about each vaccine, included into the National Vaccination Calendar, at a special website dedicated to children routine vaccination: EGU.kz In February 2019, when Varya was preparing to go to school, she noticed red dots on her legs: hemorrhagic vasculitis. Nastya and Varya were immediately taken to the hospital; they thought it was an allergy. For 3 weeks the child was not diagnosed, doctors had not realised that it was measles. Anastasia Naumova shares her story Anastasia Naumova shares her story Later, it turned out that hemorrhagic vasculitis was Varya’s body's reaction to measles. The incubation period was already in progress. But the doctors the Naumovs visited did not understand this. Their infectious disease specialist arrived at the hospital only after Varya's temperature rose to 40 degrees, and diagnosed her with measles. Varya and her mother were taken to the infectious diseases hospital. Varya at the hospital with measles Varya at the hospital with measles “I will never forget the following 10 days…,” Nastya says. Varya fell seriously ill. She was burning with a fever, crying from pain at night. There was nothing Nastya could do to help her child. “I have hardly slept these ten days. I would lean on the table, doze off, the timer would go off - I set Varya's temperature to be measured every hour. And you can't do anything - the treatment is symptomatic,” Nastya says. The complications were the worst. Varya had right-sided pneumonia, so severe that she could not swallow saliva. How would Nastya give her pills? Water? Food? “I was almost shoving this pill into her mouth, and Varya cried and shouted: ‘Mom, it hurts! Mom, don't!’ Almost two years have passed since that moment, and I am still shaking. I’d settle for a year being sick, as long as it’s not her, not for a single day. When you see that your child suffers so much simply because someone did not give her the vaccine, how would you feel about it? I have no words,” Nastya says. In total, they spent about 6.5 weeks in the hospital. During their stay the hospital was full. Children and many adults - all with measles. Fortunately, Varya pulled through. Emaciated, she weighed 17 or 18 kilograms, weak, but alive. Varya does not mention her illness. Nastya noticed that after the illness Varya started having problems studying. Apparently, this ten day long fever affected her cognitive abilities. “I believe if opponents of vaccination ever saw how people bear measles, they would think about it. It's a shame that children who have medical contraindication are at risk,” Nastya says. The Naumovs then vaccinated their daughter (with those vaccines that are not contraindicated for her) in an ordinary district hospital. “The child has HIV infection, an incurable disease, but even she did not have a reaction to the vaccine,” Nastya says. In 2019, there was an outbreak of measles in Kazakhstan with 16,871 cases, of which 13,326 (78.9%) were laboratory confirmed.2 19 children and two adults dies from the disease. Among the victims of measles, 8 children were not vaccinated due to medical contraindications. In 2020, 3,270 cases of measles were registered, of which 2,265 were children under 14 years of age. False contraindications and medical exemptions have been identified as one of the main causes of missed opportunities to vaccinate against measles during the root cause analysis conducted by UNICEF Kazakhstan. The analysis was the part of the UNICEF Kazakhstan Measles Outbreak Prevention Program funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). “We sincerely thank USAID for partnering in such an important program for children's lives to prevent a measles outbreak in the future and strengthen the immunization programme in Kazakhstan. We believe that this project will help save and preserve the lives and health of Kazakhstani children and families," said the UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan Arthur van Diesen. The Program provided technical support to analyze the causes of the measles outbreak, study parents' views on vaccination and awareness campaigns, as well as recommendations for improving the supply of vaccines and building the capacity of healthcare workers for immunization. For example, UNICEF is providing a series of trainings to address false contraindications in cooperation with the Association of Family Doctors of Kazakhstan in Aktobe, Atyrau, Eastern-Kazakhstan, Kyzylorda, Turkestan, Karaganda oblasts, Almaty and Shymkent.
Through pandemics and epidemics, hope stays alive
For more than 70 years, we have been working to improve the lives of children and their families. Our mission is made possible by a strong network of talented and dedicated staff that includes physicians, clinicians, logistics experts and communication specialists. As the global COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, we look back at UNICEF's history of responding to health crises the world over, and look ahead to recovering from this one. Филиппины UNICEF/UN03784 Индия, 1961 год. Медицинский работник делает девочке прививку против оспы. UNICEF/UNI41906 Disease prevention Since its beginnings, UNICEF has been at the forefront of disease prevention and revolutionizing children’s health. Working closely with partners like the World Health Organization (WHO), we have seen the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of polio. Since 1988, the number of children affected by polio has reduced by 99 per cent. Today, some of the same lessons we’ve learned in contact tracing in communities are being applied to reach vulnerable children and their families in some of the remotest parts of the world. Бангладеш, 1989 год. Посол доброй воли ЮНИСЕФ Одри Хепбёрн делает прививку от полиомиелита ребёнку в клинике. In the 1980s UNICEF led the child survival revolution — a shift from treating health issues to preventing them — helping to reduce child deaths by up to nearly 80 per cent in some countries. Our worldwide distribution of oral rehydration solution has helped reduce the number of deaths from diarrhoea — a leading killer of young children — by 60 per cent between 2000 and 2007. Mass immunization campaigns have also played a huge role in protecting children against preventable diseases. For measles alone, about 20 million young people’s lives were saved between 2000 and 2015 thanks to such efforts by UNICEF and partners. HIV and AIDS In 1987, AIDS became the first disease to be debated on the floor of the UN General Assembly. As Member States convened, UNICEF and WHO were already monitoring possible interactions between the disease and immunization and breastfeeding. As infections spread, UNICEF geared its research, policy, planning and fundraising to better understand how to prevent mother-to-child transmission. To equip the public with facts, we supported health education around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, working tirelessly to inform, educate and protect against stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS. Медицинский работник берёт кровь для исследования на ВИЧ Since 2010, 1.4 million HIV infections among children have been averted. The reduction in mother-to-child transmission is viewed as a public health success story. Jointly with partners, UNICEF has set ambitious targets for ending AIDS by 2030. Малыши обнимаются в приюте Swine flu In 2009, the swine flu pandemic swept across the world primarily affecting children and young adults who were otherwise in good health. UNICEF put measures in place to prepare for possible local outbreaks in 90 countries. These measures remained in place after the pandemic with an eye on future outbreaks. Mедицинские работники посещают дома Ebola Within two and a half years of the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, more than 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths had been recorded. During the crisis, UNICEF helped in providing care for ostracized children suspected of being infected, children who lost parents and guardians to Ebola, and the millions who were out of school. Since 2018, with the start of the second-biggest Ebola epidemic ever recorded, we have been working with partners across the region to prevent transmission and protect affected children. Within a year, UNICEF and partners had trained more than 32,400 teachers on how to teach children about Ebola prevention and how to make schools a protective environment. Медицинский работник измеряет температуру Coronavirus (COVID-19) The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has upended family life around the world. Economic shutdowns, school closures and confinement measures are all having a heavy impact on children now and the longer-term repercussions risk their safety, their well-being and their future. UNICEF is calling for swift global action without which, this health crisis risks becoming a child-rights crisis. ЮНИСЕФ Южный Судан, 2020 год. ЮНИСЕФ располагает сетью, состоящей из 2500 социальных активистов, работающих в течение года для повышения осведомлённости людей о важности соблюдения правил гигиены, иммунизации, питания, защиты детей и образования. UNICEF is on the ground in more than 190 countries, partnering with governments, health workers and other front-line responders to keep children healthy, safe and learning, no matter who they are or where they live. COVID-19 is one of the biggest fights in our history, yet, it is a fight that together we can win. Are you with us?
Tackling sexual exploitation and abuse of children: Actions and commitments
– “Sexual exploitation and abuse of children under any circumstances is reprehensible. No organization is immune from this scourge and we are continuously working to better address it. When it comes to the protection of children, we are determined to act. There is no room for complacency. “As UNICEF’s Executive Director, I have put this issue at the top of our agenda and we are committed to strong action and transparency within UNICEF. “To make sure we are doing everything possible, we are commissioning an independent review of our procedures and I will make its recommendations public. “My team is also exploring ways to use technology to quickly assess the risks of sexual exploitation of abuse, and facilitate safe and confidential reporting by the victims. “Starting in locations where the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse is higher, we are implementing more stringent vetting of all personnel and improving safety and protection around children in our operations. “These new measures add to the strong and determined actions we have taken over the years to prevent the abuse of children and respond to the needs of those affected, building on the lessons we have learned and a regular assessment of our approaches: We have made the reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory, through a notification alert that reports information to me within 24 hours. We have scaled up our assistance to victims and are providing them with safe and confidential support; We are rolling-out community-based complaint mechanisms; We have strengthened our investigations unit; and We have made training on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory. “We have zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, and we remain committed to continually learning and improving. We want justice for the child victims and are determined to work with all partners to achieve it.” Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore.
Precious support in the game of life
Thanks to funding from the European Union ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, UNICEF works to ensure that all refugee and migrant children in Bosnia and Herzegovina have access to primary health care, including paediatric services and, in the case of 10-year old Maisa, a vital pair of glasses. “I will wear these glasses all the time. I hope I won't lose them during the next ‘game’", says 10-year-old Maisa.* In Maisa’s world, the word "game" does not mean playing with her friends. It is the slang she uses to describe the attempts she and her family – originally from Iran – have made to cross the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina into the European Union in search of a more a promising future. To date, all of their attempts have failed. But they will keep trying. Maisa is at the opticians in Cazin, trying to decide which eyeglasses suit her best, having been brought here previously by a team from UNICEF and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), with funding from the EU’s ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, to have her eyes tested by an ophthalmologist. Trying on glasses while wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is an additional challenge, making it difficult for her to judge how the glasses look. Her dad, Zerin*, helps her choose and she is delighted with the purple-framed glasses that will come ‘home’ with her to the Sedra reception centre in Bihać. A pair of glass might seem like a small thing, but for Maisa, this is a joyous moment that will enhance her view of the world around her. Human lives are at stake in the game played by Maisa and her family. She has endured so many challenges since she left her native Tehran a year ago. At the time, she still had multifocal glasses that were suitable for treating her strabismus. However, the unpredictable life on the migrant route meant that Maisa lost her glasses long before the family arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her new glasses will allow her to continue her treatment for strabismus and help repair her damaged vision. Maisa at the pediatric clinic Maisa at the pediatric clinic of the Sedra Reception Center, her medical examination before heading off to the optical shop to get new eyeglasses. Back at the Sedra reception centre, Maisa talks about her hopes. She can't explain exactly why she wants her wanderings on the European continent to end happily in England, but maybe the staff of the reception centre are partly responsible for that: "They teach me English and thanks to them, I speak better because I want to be able to express myself clearly” she says to her Farsi translator, who helps to enhance communication between children like Maisa and local health services. The family’s attempts to cross the border to find a better life somewhere in the north of Europe have taken their toll on Maisa’s education. Nevertheless, her English flows with such ease and eloquence that one almost forgets she is sitting in the reception centre’s modest and crumbling paediatric clinic. She could be doing her medical examination before enrolling in a prestigious international school. The healthcare professionals at the Sedra clinic cannot estimate exactly how many children it is serving at the moment, as children so often go to ‘games’ with their families. Some return, some don’t, and new children arrive, with different health issues, of different ages and from different backgrounds. The reception centre is occupied mostly by families with children, so there has been a clear need for paediatric services for a long time. Maisa entering the pediatric clinic Maisa entering the pediatric clinic of the Sedra Reception center, where along with her medical check-ups she is practicing her English skills and conversing with the medical workers. According to its team of paediatricians, children most often come to the clinic for general health examinations, or because of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Babies are also taken care of, in addition to examinations, therapies and dressing services. If the outpatient clinic can’t provide the care that is needed, children are referred to the Bihać Cantonal Hospital or the Cazin Health Center. And it is thanks to this referral system, supported by the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, that Maisa was referred to the ophthalmologist. In total, more than 750 children were helped by the paediatric clinic between January and September 2020. "Thanks to the support of the EU ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative, and the work of the DRC and our partners working within reception centres, the quality and number of services provided to children in need of health care have increased significantly since we founded the pediatric units in Sedra and Borići”, says Amila Madžak, Education officer at the UNICEF office in Bihać. “This has had a positive impact on individuals and families, and on migrant communities, as well as on wider public health. Help is also provided for unaccompanied children living in the reception centres in Bira and Miral. In addition to basic services, the paediatric care on offer also includes immunization services, systematic examinations, ophthalmological and dental services, consultations, training and coaching for children and adults. We also went through the first cycle of immunization with 500 children in the USC, and we are continuing with the next cycle in the Una Sana Canton, as well as in Sarajevo Canton." Fortunately, Maisa's problem was much easier to solve than many other health problems faced by the children of migrants, refugees and by unaccompanied minors. For many of them, this is the end of the road, with no prospect of going any further. And going further is what Maisa has been dreaming of since embarking on this unpredictable journey: the London rain, the British accent and the ability to use her eyes to their full potential. *Names changed to protect identities. 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). Logo The content of this article represents the views of the author(s) only and is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food 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.