Immunization and conflict

Children everywhere, in any situation or circumstance, deserve to survive and thrive. Children affected by conflict are among the most likely to be denied this right.

Two women cross a very high and narrow bridge across a river.

The challenge

Today, almost 7.7 million of unimmunized children live in fragile or humanitarian settings, including countries affected by conflict. 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 conflict and emergencies, effects of these maladies can worsen.

When children contract measles in non-conflict settings, fewer than 1 percent of them die. In areas where crowding and malnutrition are rife, such as refugee camps, children dying from measles can soar to up to 30 percent of cases. Overcrowding and lack of basic necessities like food, water and shelter make children even more vulnerable to disease.

“Conflict creates an ideal environment for disease outbreaks,” said UNICEF Chief of Immunization Robin Nandy. ”Children miss out 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.”



Learn more with these blog posts:

A young boy is delivered an oral vaccine by a standing health worker
Immunization under fire
A group of buys stand around a doctor
My journey to Yemen’s battle zones
A health worker stands in a long canoe
Central African Republic: Going the extra mile

The solution

In emergencies and conflicts, getting necessary supplies to those in need becomes even more urgent. Supplies need to be delivered and must be kept safe and 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 also offer health and nutrition services, and care for childhood illnesses, to populations who come forward in response to immunization campaigns.

Of countries in conflict, South Sudan has the highest percentage of unimmunized children, with 61 percent not receiving the most basic childhood vaccines, followed by Somalia (58 percent) and Syria (57 percent).

In 2017, with UNICEF’s support, over 13.6 million children living in conflict-affected areas were vaccinated against measles.

A small, colorfully -dressed baby gets a vaccine shot.
UNICEF reaches almost half of world’s children with life-saving vaccines
A tiny baby gets administered a vaccine.
Two-thirds of unimmunized children live in conflict-affected countries

Take action

Every child has the right to a fair chance in life. Your donations can help UNICEF and our partners make a difference in the lives of children around the world.