Immunization and conflict
Children everywhere, in any situation or circumstance, have the right to survive and thrive.
In 2019, an estimated 8.6 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children lived in countries affected by conflict, fragility or where polio remains endemic. Children living in conflict are often the most vulnerable to disease outbreaks like measles and polio, which can cause death or profound disability.
Globally, measles, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malnutrition are major causes of childhood illness and death. In places affected by conflict and emergencies, these maladies exact staggering tolls.
When children contract measles in non-conflict settings, fewer than 1 per cent of them die. But in areas where crowding and malnutrition are rife, such as refugee camps, children dying from measles can soar to 30 per cent of cases. Overcrowding and lack of necessities like food, water and shelter make children even more vulnerable to disease.
"Conflict creates an ideal environment for disease outbreaks," says UNICEF Chief of Immunization Robin Nandy. "Children miss out on basic immunizations because of the breakdown – and sometimes deliberate destruction – of vital health services. Even when medical services are available, insecurity in the area often prevents them from reaching children."
In emergencies and conflicts, getting health supplies to those in need is a matter of life and death. Supplies need to be delivered and must be kept safe, at the right temperature, to be effective (the “cold chain”). UNICEF works with partners to maintain or restart the cold chain for vaccines and other essential medical supplies. We also work to put health teams torn apart by conflict back in place, and train health workers to provide immunization, nutrition screening, vitamin A supplements and medical treatment for women and children.
Vaccinators brave rough terrain, cross hostile conflict lines and put their lives at risk to immunize children against life-threatening diseases.
Immunization in conflict helps revive other badly needed health services, as well. For example, in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, health workers offer health and nutrition services, while attending to childhood illnesses.
Among polio-endemic, fragile or conflict-affected countries in 2018, Chad had the highest rate of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children, with nearly 60 per cent not receiving the most basic childhood vaccines, followed by Somalia (58 per cent) and Syria (53 per cent).
In 2018, with UNICEF’s support, over 19 million children living in polio-endemic, fragile or conflict-affected countries were vaccinated against measles.