UNICEF reports one in five children still unimmunized and at risk
One and a half million children would not have died in 2011 had they been immunized, according to UNICEF at the start of World Immunization Week. But one in five children is not being reached with vital vaccines due to social or geographical exclusion, lack of resources, weak health systems or conflicts such as those raging today in Syria and parts of West Africa.
Every infant in the world needs to be immunized to better protect their health, and vaccines are estimated to save the lives of 2 to 3 million children each year – representing one of the ten greatest achievements in public health of the last century, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Immunization is also highly cost effective. For instance, it costs less than US$1 to protect a child against measles for life.
In 2011, however, 22.4 million children were not immunized – an increase of over one million from the preceding year.
UNICEF is concerned that global efforts to vaccinate every child are plateauing as funding falls and political will stagnates. In 2011, only 152 out of 193 World Health Organization member states had dedicated budget lines for immunization.
Inequalities persist within and between countries. Children from wealthy families have the greatest access to the best health services in any given country, and they enjoy the highest rates of immunization coverage.
Unless disparities are addressed every last child cannot be immunized, says UNICEF. At the same time, investment in routine immunization as part of improved health care systems will benefit all children – thus further reducing inequities. To do so, governments have to provide sufficient funding and innovation should be encouraged – such as the recent introduction of vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoea.
And, most importantly, unwavering political support is needed to extend the benefits of vaccines to children living in the poorest families and the most remote communities.
UNICEF’s unique position
UNICEF procures vaccines that reach 36 per cent of the world's children. In 2012, UNICEF procured almost 1.9 billion doses of vaccine and over 500 million syringes. As the largest buyer of vaccines in the world, UNICEF works to keep vaccine prices at levels that low- and middle-income countries can afford. UNICEF and its partners supported immunization programmes in over 100 countries last year.
At country level, UNICEF and partners support governments in optimising immunization supply chains so that cold chain equipment and logistics effectively maintain vaccines at stable temperatures at every step of storage and transportation until the child is reached. And UNICEF also works to increase community awareness and acceptance of immunization.
When emergencies occur, children are more vulnerable, and immunization campaigns become critically important. One of the first highly contagious diseases to appear in humanitarian situations is measles, outbreaks of which have been reported recently in Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The enormous impact of immunization and the challenges to vaccination are starkly apparent in the crisis in Syria. Last year, UNICEF and its partners vaccinated 1.3 million children against measles and 1.5 million against polio, and a campaign is now under way to reach 2.5 million children with measles vaccinations. However, a combination of limited funds, enormous challenges to access and mass population movements are making it harder than ever to reach every child.
Concerted efforts to immunize children have reduced or eliminated the incidence of devastating illnesses:
• Smallpox was eradicated in 1980. Polio was recently eliminated in India and is now endemic in only three countries: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
• Between 2000 and 2011, measles deaths dropped 71 per cent worldwide.
• 29 countries eliminated neo-natal tetanus between 2000 and 2013.
Notes to editors:
World Immunization Week is a global initiative celebrated each year in late April to promote the use of life-saving vaccines, one of the world’s most potent tools to immunize children against killer diseases. The week is an opportunity to advocate for reaching every last child with essential vaccines, for increased funding and for improved national immunization programmes.
During World Immunization Week 2013, UNICEF, with its government and UN partners, will be raising awareness about the urgency of reaching every last child through country level events and communications activities on social and traditional media.
Some highlights include:
• Vaccination campaigns for Malian refugees displaced by conflict and host communities in Mauritania. Children will receive vaccines against measles, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. Those under the age of five will also be screened for malnutrition,
• New vaccine introductions in Uganda, Somalia, DRC, Zambia, Angola and Haiti,
• Overnight film projections on immunization in rural communities in Liberia,
• The launch of an “edutainment” series for teenagers in Ukraine,
• An SMS campaign in Malawi encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated,
• “Open field days” in Gambia, where health workers engage communities on immunization with quiz competitions, prizes and overnight film projections in rural communities.
• The national TV of the DRC will broadcast a skit on immunization featuring popular comedians in and radio stations will play a song by famous Congolese musicians.
UNICEF will feature content on its website and in social media from immunization efforts around the world, including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan where polio remains endemic.
For more information please contact the UNICEF UK Media Team on 0207 375 6030
UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org.uk