Young child survival and development

Young Child Survival and Development


Fact sheet on Immunization


When the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) was launched in 1974, less than five per cent of the world's children were immunized during their first year of life against six killer diseases — diphtheria, measles, pertussis, polio, tetanus and tuberculosis.  In 2007, immunization coverage for each of the six diseases reached over 80 per cent and some 118 countries achieved 90 per cent or more DTP3 coverage.


Estimates of immunization coverage in 2008 for the major vaccine-preventable diseases are:

  • 89 per cent of infants immunized against tuberculosis;
  • 82 per cent of infants received 3 doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP);
  • 69 per cent of infants received 3 doses of hepatitis B;
  • 28 per cent of infants received 3 doses of Hib;
  • 83 per cent of infants received at least one dose of measles vaccine;
  • 83 per cent of infants received at least 3 doses of polio vaccine;
  • 81 per cent of newborns in the developing world are protected against tetanus.


Immunization against childhood illnesses is an essential part of improving the health and well-being of children. As part of its overall commitment to strengthen primary health care systems, UNICEF prioritizes expanding and sustaining immunization services to reach all children with all appropriate vaccines.

Immunization is among the most successful, most equitable and most cost-effective public health interventions reaching four out of five children globally. UNICEF builds upon the success of immunization, using it as a platform to deliver other preventive and curative health services, such as vitamin A supplements to prevent malnutrition, insecticide-treated nets for protection against malaria and de-worming medicine for intestinal worms.

Every year, UNICEF Supply Division purchases vaccines and other immunization supplies reaching 56 per cent of children around the world, making it the leading global agency procuring vaccines for children. For 2008, UNICEF procured about 2.6 billion doses of vaccine valued at approximately $633 million.




Measles remains a leading cause of death among young children, despite the fact that a safe and effective vaccine has been available for 40 years. It is one of the most contagious diseases known and many non-immune children contract this respiratory disease if exposed to the virus. Measles is an acute illness caused by a virus of the paramyxovirus family. During the first few weeks after contracting measles, a child’s immune system will be compromised, and a normal cold or diarrhoea can become a life threatening disease in developing countries where children have limited or no access to medical treatment.


  • An estimated 450 people, mostly children, die every day from measles despite the fact that an effective and safe vaccine is available at low cost. 
  • It costs less than $1 to vaccinate a child against measles. 
  • In 2008, UNICEF purchased 174 million doses of measles vaccine bundled with safe injection devices.
  • A global goal was set at the World Health Assembly in May 2005 – to reduce measles deaths by 90 per cent by 2010, compared to 2000 data. 
  • Despite global successes in reducing measles deaths, an estimated 164,000 people died from measles in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available.


The reduction in measles deaths globally reflects support and commitment by the Measles Initiative to boosting immunization coverage and by national governments to following the World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF comprehensive strategy for reducing measles mortality. This strategy consists of four key components:

1. Providing at least one dose of measles vaccine, administered at nine months of age or shortly after, through routine vaccination coverage of at least 90 per cent of children in each district and nationally;
2. Giving all children a second opportunity for measles vaccination;
3. Establishing effective surveillance;
4. Improving clinical management of complicated cases – including vitamin A supplementation.




The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. The initiative is a unique collaboration of governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society. UNICEF is committed to the goal of polio eradication. Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) started, polio cases have been reduced by more than 99 per cent from an average of 350,000 per year in 1988 to 1,651 cases in 2008. 


  • Somalia, a country that had eradicated polio in 2002, was re-infected in 2005.  However, the last case of polio was reported in March 2007, indicating that the country is once again polio-free.
  • Polio is endemic in four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, which together accounted for 1,505 polio cases in 2008, or 91 per cent of all cases.  The virus circulation in the remaining endemic countries remains to be restricted primarily to specific geographic areas with identified challenges including insecurity, inaccessibility and managerial and administrative issues which influence the quality of activities in these areas. More concerted efforts continue to be made to address these challenges to be able to reach and vaccinate all children and stop virus circulation.
  • UNICEF’s mission is to assist governments in their efforts to immunize every child against polio until transmission has stopped and the world can be certified polio-free.
  • Since the momentous launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988 during the World Health Assembly in Geneva, nearly five million children, who otherwise would have been paralyzed and incapacitated by polio, are walking, able and symptom-free. 
  • The number of polio cases reported annually has decreased by more than 99 per cent – from 350,000 in 1988 to 1,651 cases in 2008. This rapid success has been achieved through a global campaign to immunize every child under five. Since the late nineties, the polio vaccine has been delivered to children in endemic countries through mass immunization campaigns, known as National Immunization Days (NIDs).
  • Only when three years have passed without a case and the world has been certified polio-free can we say we have achieved global eradication.




  • Malaria is endemic in 109 countries and territories in tropical and subtropical regions, with sub-Saharan Africa hardest hit.  Between 190 million to 330 million cases of clinical malaria occur each year.
  • Malaria kills about one million people every year. 
  • Approximately 90 per cent of all malaria deaths currently occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and most of these deaths are among children under five years of age.
  • Malaria is a leading cause of under-five mortality in Africa (16 per cent). 
  • Malaria is both treatable, with Artemesinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT), and preventable through insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and indoor residual spraying. 


  • UNICEF advocates for the continued integration of malaria control efforts with the delivery of broader, comprehensive, maternal and child health services, such as antenatal care and immunization.
  • UNICEF emphasizes the crucial need for community-based and community-led health and development programmes and the role of behaviour change communication in maximising the effectiveness of interventions including mosquito nets and treatment.
  • UNICEF calls for an accelerated effort to scale-up malaria control interventions to meet the global 2010 target of universal coverage in all endemic countries, which is defined as one net for every two people at risk of malaria transmission.  This increased effort to control malaria will contribute further to the reductions in overall child mortality, especially in Africa. 


Updated: 1/12/2010



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