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.
In Focus: Immunization
Immunization is one of the world’s most cost-effective public health interventions, saving millions of lives each year, and protecting children from illness and disability. Vaccines have helped to halve the number of child deaths worldwide since 1990 and represent a sound financial investment: every $1 spent on childhood immunizations returns an estimated $44 in economic and social benefits. Despite the achievements of immunization programmes in the Europe and Central Asia Region in recent decades, reported immunization rates are uneven across countries — from as high as 98 percent in Albania to as low as 19 percent in Ukraine. The regional average for Eastern Europe and Central Asia stands at 92 percent, still not high enough to protect all children from preventable diseases. What’s more, there was no improvement in coverage between 2014 and 2016. At national levels, disparities can be shocking, with the most vulnerable children often missing out on immunization. Across the Region, more than half a million children have missed out on their routine measles vaccination, and many countries continue to face outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that threaten the lives and well-being of children. Challenges to immunization include weak political commitment and health systems, ‘vaccine hesitancy,’ and concerns about the financial sustainability of national immunization programmes in middle-income countries. UNICEF knows that the whole Region benefits when ALL countries achieve and maintain high vaccine coverage at both national and sub-national levels. Download file (PDF, 981,23 KB) July 2018
Interpersonal Communication for Immunization
Health providers have always been an important and trusted source of information for parents and caregivers in the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region and beyond. The way they interact with families and the quality of their communication and engagement may have a positive or negative influence on caregivers’ decision to immunize their children. Research in ECA has shown that health workers do not always engage with caregivers in an open and supportive way, often using a patronizing and top-down approach in communication. As a result of time constraints and limited communication capacities, they often fail to understand the immunization-related concerns, fears and expectations of caregivers and fail to identify and address vaccine hesitancy. To help strengthen the communication and community engagement skills of front-line workers, the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (ECARO) has developed this interactive and evidence-based training package to identify and address their own biases and misconceptions and to equip them with the essential knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need for positive and meaningful interpersonal communication. It consist of a Facilitator Guide, Participant Manual and a set of Presentations. Options Available options Facilitator guide Participant manual Presentation Download file (PDF, 5,62 MB) (PDF, 5,57 MB) (PDF, 11,88 MB) November 2019
Interpersonal Communication for Immunization. Presentation
Health providers have always been an important and trusted source of information for parents and caregivers in the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region and beyond. The way they interact with families and the quality of their communication and engagement may have a positive or negative influence on caregivers’ decision to immunize their children. Download file (PDF, 11,88 MB) November 2018
Interpersonal Communication for Immunization. Participant manual
Good interpersonal communication can mean the difference between a child being fully immunized or not at all. This Interpersonal Communication for Immunization Participant manual seeks to help health workers value, acquire, and consistently use the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to communicate effectively with caregivers and communities about childhood immunization. Interpersonal communication for immunization capacity development is critical. Almost every study of health worker practices in the region finds that interpersonal communication for immunization overall is weak. Yet, at the same time, the vast majority of caregivers of young children cite health workers as their primary source of information about immunization. Health workers and health services must close this gap if nations and the world are to achieve universal immunization. Download file (PDF, 5,57 MB) November 2019
Interpersonal Communication for Immunization. Facilitator Guide
Health providers have always been an important and trusted source of information for parents and caregivers in the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region and beyond. The way they interact with families and the quality of their communication and engagement may have a positive or negative influence on caregivers’ decision to immunize their children. Research in ECA has shown that health workers do not always engage with caregivers in an open and supportive way, often using a patronizing and top-down approach in communication. As a result of time constraints and limited communication capacities, they often fail to understand the immuni-zation-related concerns, fears and expectations of caregivers and fail to identify and address vaccine hesitancy. To help strengthen the communication and community engagement skills of front-line workers, the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (ECARO) has developed this interactive and evidence-based training package to identify and address their own biases and misconceptions and to equip them with the essential knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need for positive and meaningful interpersonal communication. Download file (PDF, 5,62 MB) November 2019
Protecting young children from vaccine-preventable diseases
Vaccination is one of the world’s safest and most cost-effective public health interventions. Yet growing distrust in science, coupled with misinformation, means that vaccination coverage rates are declining in some countries and communities, resulting in an upsurge of vaccine-preventable diseases. Research shows that those caring for children…
Tracking anti-vaccination sentiment in Eastern European social media networks
This UNICEF working paper aims to track and analyse online anti-vaccination sentiment in social media networks by examining conversations across social media in English, Russian, Romanian and Polish. The findings support the assumption that parents actively use social networks and blogs to inform their decisions on vaccinating their children. The…
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.
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.”
The Roma are one of Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minority groups. Of the 10 to 12 million Roma people in Europe, around two-thirds live in central and eastern European countries. While some have escaped from poverty, millions live in slums and lack the basic services they need, from healthcare and education to electricity and clean water. Discrimination against Roma communities is commonplace, fuelling their exclusion. Far from spurring support for their social inclusion, their poverty and poor living conditions often reinforce the stereotyped views of policymakers and the public. And far from receiving the support that is their right, Roma children face discrimination that denies them the essentials for a safe, healthy and educated childhood. Discrimination against Roma children can start early, and have a life-long impact. The problems facing Roma children can start early in life. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, Roma infants are four times more likely than others to be born underweight. They are also less likely to be registered at birth, and many lack the birth certificate that signals their right to a whole range of services. As they grow, Roma children are more likely to be underweight than non-Roma children and less likely to be fully immunized. Few participate in early childhood education. They are less likely than non-Roma children to start or complete primary school, and Roma girls, in particular, are far less likely to attend secondary school. Only 19 per cent of Roma children make it this far in Serbia, compared to 89 per cent of non-Roma children. There are also disparities in literacy rates across 10 countries in the region, with rates of 80 per cent for Roma boys and just under 75 per cent for Roma girls, compared to near universal literacy rates at national level. Roma children are too often segregated into ‘remedial’ classes within regular schools, and are more likely to be in ‘special’ schools – a reflection of schools that are failing to meet their needs, rather than any failure on their part. In Roma communities, child marriage may be perceived as a ‘valid’ way to protect young girls, and as a valued tradition. In reality, such marriages deepen the disparities experienced by girls, and narrow their opportunities in life. In many Balkan countries, half of all Roma women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18, compared to around 10 per cent nationally. Child marriage and school drop-out are closely linked, particularly for girls, and such marriages also expose girls to the dangers of early pregnancy and childbirth, as well as a high risk of domestic violence.
Refugee and migrant children in Europe
People have always migrated to flee from trouble or to find better opportunities. Today, more people are on the move than ever, trying to escape from climate change, poverty and conflict, and aided as never before by digital technologies. Children make up one-third of the world’s population, but almost half of the world’s refugees: nearly 50 million children have migrated or been displaced across borders. We work to prevent the causes that uproot children from their homes While working to safeguard refugee and migrant children in Europe, UNICEF is also working on the ground in their countries of origin to ease the impact of the poverty, lack of education, conflict and insecurity that fuel global refugee and migrant movements. In every country, from Morocco to Afghanistan, and from Nigeria to Iraq, we strive to ensure all children are safe, healthy, educated and protected. This work accelerates and expands when countries descend into crisis. In Syria, for example, UNICEF has been working to ease the impact of the country’s conflict on children since it began in 2011. We are committed to delivering essential services for Syrian families and to prevent Syria's children from becoming a ‘ lost generation ’. We support life-saving areas of health , nutrition , immunization , water and sanitation, as well as education and child protection . We also work in neighbouring countries to support Syrian refugee families and the host communities in which they have settled.