As the world observes International Immunisation Week from April 24-30, 2017, with the theme #VaccinesWork, a data released by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reveals that UNICEF is the largest buyer of vaccines for children in the world, yet millions of children in India and also around the world misses out on full vaccinations every year.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) procured 2.5 billion doses of vaccines as the lead procurement agency for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. They provided vaccinations to children in nearly 100 countries in 2016, reaching almost half of the world’s children under the age of five.
UNICEF works with World Health Organisation (WHO) to support the Government of India’s Universal Immunisation Programme to ensure that vaccines protect all children – especially those who are the hardest to reach and the most vulnerable.
Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three remaining polio-endemic countries, received more doses of vaccines than any other country, with almost 450 million doses of vaccines procured for children in Nigeria, 395 million in Pakistan and over 150 million in Afghanistan.
In India, the under-five mortality stands at 1.11 million deaths per year and pneumonia accounted for 13 pc of total under-five deaths, while diarrhoea contributed to approximately 10 pc of the under-five deaths. Globally, access to immunisation has led to a dramatic decrease in deaths of children under-five years from vaccine-preventable diseases. Between 2000 and 2015, there has been a global decrease in under-five deaths caused due to measles and neonatal diseases by 85 pc and 83 pc respectively.
However, an estimated 10 million children in India still miss out on full vaccinations every year. Weak health systems, poverty and social inequities also mean that a large number of children under-five are still not reachable with life-saving vaccines.
“The Government of India has demonstrated strong and effective leadership in mobilising partners for collectively addressing maternal and child health. UNICEF is committed to working together with the Government of India and other development partners, to ensure that we close the immunity gaps in every state, in every district and in every community, so that all boys and girls are protected life-long from measles, rubella, and other vaccine preventable diseases,” said Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF India Representative.
Inequalities between the rich and poor
In countries where 80 pc of the world’s under-five child deaths occur, over half of the poorest children are not fully vaccinated. Globally, the poorest children are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five as compared to the richest.
“All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances, have the right to survive and thrive, safe from deadly diseases. Since 1990, immunisation has been a major reason for the substantial drop in child mortality, but despite this progress, 1.5 million children still die from vaccine preventable diseases every year,”said Dr Robin Nandy, Chief of Immunisation at UNICEF headquarters in New York.
In addition to children living in rural communities where access to services is limited, more and more children living in overcrowded cities and slum dwellings are also missing out on vital vaccinations. According to UNICEF, by 2030 an estimated one in four people will live in urban poor communities, mainly in Africa and Asia, meaning the focus and investment of immunisation services must be tailored to the specific needs of these communities and children.
“Overcrowding, poverty, poor hygiene and sanitation as well as inadequate nutrition and health care increase the risk of diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles in these communities; diseases that are easily preventable with vaccines,” he added.