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UNICEF's Response

© UNICEF/ HQ99-0394/ Thomas
A woman health worker holds a crying baby while others wait their turn to be vaccinated in a UNICEF-assisted clinic in a tent at the Cegrane camp. TFYR Macedonia.

UNICEF operates in more than 130 countries, where it works to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet children’s basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential. UNICEF works across sectors and across the life-cycle to protect these rights, focusing in particular on protecting the rights of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children, including promotion of gender equality. UNICEF supports governments and works through partners including civil society to deliver the majority of its programming.


Guided by the SDGs and the Global Strategy for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), UNICEF envisions a world where no child dies from a preventable disease and all children reach their full potential in health and well-being.


For the period 2016-2020, UNICEF’s Strategy for Health sets two overarching goals:


1.       End preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths

2.       Promote the health and development of all children.


To achieve these goals, UNICEF’s Health Strategy considers the health needs of the child at all life stages. It highlights the need for intensified efforts to address growing inequities in health outcomes, including a particular focus on addressing gender-specific needs and barriers that may determine whether boys and girls are able to reach their full potential in health and well-being.


UNICEF’s approach to health emphasizes the importance of multi-sector approaches to enhance child development and address underlying causes and determinants of poor health outcomes. It aims to shift UNICEF from vertical disease programmes to strengthening health systems and building resilience, including calling for better integration of humanitarian and development efforts and encouraging risk-informed programming in all contexts. This means development programs should anticipate risks and deliberately build systems that can flexibly respond to changing circumstances. In addition, emergency programs, including for public health emergencies and outbreaks, should be designed to “build back better,” or enact reforms that make the health system more effective even after the disaster has passed.


In order to increase focus and coherence across health programmes, UNICEF’s health approach focuses on three pillars - addressing inequities in health outcomes, strengthening health systems including emergency preparedness, response and resilience, and promoting integrated, multi-sector policies and programmes. These three pillars underpin all of UNICEF’s programming and engagement in the health sector. Under UNICEF’s new Health Strategy, country offices are called upon to choose from a set of actions in order to concentrate resources, improve the consistency and quality of their health programmes and achieve greater impact for children within their country context.


To reinforce UNICEF's recognized leadership role in equity as well as the organization's potential to design and implement integrated, multi-sector policies and programmes, these actions seek to reinforce UNICEF's mandate to advocate for the child’s right to health by bringing deep field experience to the policy table at global, regional and national levels.


UNICEF’s health approach aims to build on UNICEF's significant experience and history of action for child survival, while evolving to meet the changing needs of children. This means retaining emphasis on maternal, newborn and child survival, particularly in lower capacity contexts while adapting to a shifting disease burden and complex health architecture.



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