NEW YORK (April 19, 2013) – UNICEF is concerned that global efforts to vaccinate every child are plateauing as funding falls and political will stagnates. One and a half million children would not have died in 2011 had they been immunized, said the international children’s organization at the start of World Immunization Week. That year 22.4 million children were not immunized—an increase of more than 1 million from 2010.
Vaccines are estimated to save the lives of 2 to 3 million children each year and represent 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 $1 to protect a child against measles for life.
Still, one in five children is not being reached currently with lifesaving vaccines because of geography, lack of resources, weak health systems or conflicts. 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 child cannot be immunized, says UNICEF. At the same time, investment in routine immunization will benefit all children and further reduce inequities. To do so, governments have to provide sufficient funding and innovation—such as the recent introduction of vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoea—should be encouraged.
The enormous impact and challenges of immunization are starkly apparent 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 underway to reach 2.5 million children with measles vaccinations. However, a combination of limited funds, enormous barriers to access and mass population movements is making it harder than ever to reach every child.
When emergencies occur, children are more susceptible to disease, and immunization campaigns become critically important. One of the first highly contagious diseases to appear in humanitarian situations is measles. Outbreaks have been reported recently in Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UNICEF procures vaccines that reach 36 percent of the world's children. In 2012, UNICEF procured nearly 1.9 billion doses of vaccine and more than 500 million syringes. As the largest supplier of vaccines in the world, UNICEF works to keep vaccine prices at levels that low- and middle-income countries can afford. In 2012 UNICEF and its partners supported immunization programs in more than 100 countries.
Concerted efforts to immunize children have eliminated the incidence of devastating illnesses, including smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980. Since 2000, 29 countries have eliminated neo-natal tetanus and measles deaths have dropped 71 percent worldwide. In addition, polio was recently eliminated in India and is now endemic in only three countries.
World Immunization Week, which begins on April 20, 2013, is a global initiative to promote the use of lifesaving 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 child with essential vaccines, for increasing funding and for improving national immunization programs.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.