Protecting children against measles in Romania

UNICEF helps educate vulnerable families on the life-saving benefits of immunizing their children

Raluca Zaharia
A boy is vaccinated in the town of Strehaia, Southwestern Romania. Children were recently vaccinated during a door-to-door information and vaccination catch up campaign organized by the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
UNICEF/Dinulescu

24 January 2019

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.
UNICEF/Cybermedia
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.