UNICEF believes no child should die of a preventable disease. That’s why we provide vaccines for 45% of the world’s young children.

The global COVID-19 outbreak is a stark reminder of what is at stake when we lack the protective shield of vaccines. Health systems around the world are overstretched and the longer the pandemic continues, the more essential health services will be disrupted and the more children at risk of missing out on their regular life-saving vaccinations. 

Together with our partners, we support vaccination programs in over 99 countries. It’s a huge job that’s only possible through the sheer determination of thousands of volunteers and health professionals. 

These photos show the incredible lengths they’ll go to keep children safe from disease.
 

Health workers climb mountains

Four years of conflict have ravaged Yemen’s health care system. These health workers taking part in a UNICEF vaccination campaign are determined to save children’s lives - even through mountainous terrain, oppressive heat and heavy loads. © UNICEF/Yemen

War is the perfect environment for disease to spread. With many hospitals and clinics in Yemen bombed or abandoned, it’s estimated one child dies every ten minutes from a preventable disease.

With no end in sight to the conflict, UNICEF and our partners are responding on a massive scale. Last year, we conducted a nationwide campaign to combat measles and rubella, also reaching children in remote areas. 

More than 13 million children were reached with the support of 40,000 health workers and vaccinators. In recent months, more than 1.3 million children in Yemen were vaccinated against polio, protecting them against the life-threatening disease. 

Each vaccinator has incredible resolve in crossing battle lines, mountains and valleys to vaccinate children. More children die from preventable diseases in Yemen than in the violence, so we simply can’t afford to stop.
 
UNICEF’s vaccines had to cross rough terrain for a measles, rubella and polio vaccination campaign in some of the most difficult-to-reach parts of PNG after the 2018 earthquake.  © UNICEF/UN0292490/UN0292492/Holt

Diseases can also spread with deadly speed in the aftermath of a natural disaster, when children struggle to find safe drinking water, toilets and soap.
 
After a massive earthquake in Papua New Guinea in 2018, UNICEF supported a nationwide  vaccination campaign to protect children from measles, rubella, and polio. That meant trekking through mountainous, jungle terrain to reach the children hardest hit at the epicentre of the quake.

Almost 1.3 million children under five were vaccinated against polio, while 1.2 million children were immunised against measles and rubella. 
But now this life-saving work is under threat. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 30 measles vaccination campaigns were at risk of being cancelled, which could result in further outbreaks.  

Movement restrictions and weakening healthcare systems threaten the lives of children. UNICEF continue to work with partners to supply vaccines to children in the poorest countries, even during a pandemic.  
 
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Najeeba has been working for years as a health worker in north-east Afghanistan. Community leaders like her make all the difference when myth and misinformation stop children being vaccinated. © UNICEF/UNI120787/Slezic

UNICEF continues to work hard every day towards a vision: a world where all children, everywhere are protected against preventable diseases. 
 

They cross rivers

A vaccine carrier is carefully transported across a river in India. It’s a delicate process - the vaccines need to be kept cold, even in tropical parts of the world. © UNICEF/UNI184260/Lucky8 LLC

UNICEF procured 2.4 billion vaccines in 2019. Their journeys start in our supply warehouses and end in every corner of the world.

No matter where they are, children who are vaccinated have a better chance to survive, thrive and reach their potential. That’s why UNICEF helps vaccines get to those hardest to reach - including the children on the other side of this river.

The persistence of health workers across the world has paid off - with immunisation saving more than two million lives each year from deadly childhood diseases like measles, diarrhoea and pneumonia.
 
Healthcare worker Dole Singh carries vaccines in a trolley cart across rivers in remote, mountainous regions of India to reach children with measles and rubella vaccinations.  © UNICEF/UN0125861/Sharma
In Nepal, near the epicentre of the 2015 earthquakes, health workers and porters carried vaccines across narrow bridges. © UNICEF/UNI199159/Panday

Getting vaccines to remote communities isn’t enough. To stay effective, vaccines need to be kept cold in a special carrier. If at any stage the vaccine’s temperature drops below two degrees or rises above eight, it can become unusable.
 
Midwife Rosalinda and her assistant hike the coastline to deliver vaccines on Epi Island, Vanuatu. © UNICEF/UN0259784/Chute

Midwife Roslinda and her assistant hiked for three hours along the coastline of Vanuatu to deliver vaccines to the village’s clinic. Because there are no fridges to store them, the vaccines must be administered immediately at journeys end. 

Rosalind spent three days trying to contact the nurse at the distant health centre but because of limited communication, she decided to just go. 

Despite progress, nearly 20 million children didn’t receive even the most basic vaccines in 2019, leaving them vulnerable to dangerous diseases. It’s not an easy job but we can’t give up. 
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They drive down long, lonely roads

A box filled with polio vaccines sits on a jeep in regional Pakistan. Even in the stifling heat, the temperature-controlled carrier will keep the vaccines cold. © UNICEF/UN0510/Zaidi

Even when there’s not an emergency, networks of UNICEF-sponsored health workers help vaccinate children who aren’t being reached. Where poverty, disadvantage and distance break down access to health services, these volunteers and staff bridge the gap.
Alia is one of 70,000 committed polio workers, one of the largest female workforces in the country, fighting polio. Here she is vaccinating a child in an old military barrack. © UNICEF/UN0202762/Hibbert

In Afghanistan, female polio workers are critical because for cultural reasons only women are allowed to access the private areas of a family's home to check that every infant child has been vaccinated. 

While most women lack the education and opportunity to work outside their homes, Afia travels bravely throughout her community because she believes that no child should be paralysed by polio.  

Equipping local health workers to vaccinate children is a sustainable, long-term strategy that benefits and empowers communities. 


And off roads...

Nepal has some of the most difficult terrains to traverse for vaccine delivery. Near the epicentre of the 2015 earthquakes, health workers and porters climbed mountains and crossed rivers by car and on foot. © UNICEF/UNI199153/Panday
A UNICEF car drives through a river to reach a remote community in Kavieng in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea, to administer polio vaccines.© UNICEF/UN0292471/Holt


They travel by boat...

Health workers deliver vaccines to children on a speedboat, crossing Mekong River in Cambodia. © UNICEF/UN0205289/
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Distance isn’t the only barrier to getting children vaccinated. UNICEF works with community advocates to dispel myths and make sure families know the life-saving benefits of routine immunisations.
 
In this province of Pakistan, the only way to reach children is by crossing the Indus river. So that’s exactly what this polio team does. © UNICEF/UNI144216/Zaidi

This team is one of thousands that has helped eliminate polio in 123 countries around the world since 1988. In August, Africa was declared free of wild poliovirus – an incredible achievement made possible through one of the most cost-effective ways of protecting children’s lives: vaccines.  
 

...by bicycle...

Health Surveillance Assistant, Noah Chipeta, rides his bicycle from the Chanthunthu community clinic to the nearest health centre, which is 17 kilometres away, in order to restock medical supplies at the clinic in rural Kasungu District, Malawi. © UNICEF/UN066837/Hubbard
 

...and by air.

Measles vaccines are unloaded by airport personnel in Fiji before being inspected and transferred onward. Some 260,000 vaccines were delivering in November 2019, during an outbreak in the pacific. © UNICEF/UNI231643/Stephen

When measles broke out in Samoa, Fiji and Tonga last year, UNICEF and partners airlifted almost 300,000 vaccines and medical supplies to the Pacfic. Mobile teams helped to reach the most vulnerable children and end the outbreak.  

In the warm, tropical weather, cold boxes are used to keep vaccines at the right temperature and transport them where they are needed most.  
 
From left to right: Senior Registered Nurse, Luisa, leads her team to a vaccination site for the day as part of the UNICEF-supported vaccination campaign in Samoa. © UNICEF/UNI232366/Stephen and a UNICEF staff member oversees the loading of measles vaccines bound for Samoa. © UNICEF/UNI231647/Stephen


They think outside the box


In remote villages in Vanuatu, families have no access to health centres or electricity and are only accessible by foot or small local "banana" boats. It means one in five children miss out on vaccinations because their communities are so hard to reach. 

Baby Joy missed her first vaccines after birth because no nurses were available in her village that week and the nearest health centre was too far for her mother to walk.

But now thanks to a new program, which uses a drone to deliver vaccines to remote communities, children like Joy won't miss out on life-saving immunisations. 
   


And, they work on the go

Four-year-old Aush is vaccinated against polio on a moving train in Delhi, India. Photo via GAVI on Flickr

Nearly a third of the 27 million babies born in India every year are not fully vaccinated during their critical first year of life. This leaves them vulnerable to disease and leaves health workers trying to catch up.

Being able to provide vaccines to even the most remote places is important because no child should lose their life to a preventable disease. UNICEF works for the survival, protection and development of every child, with a focus on the children who are the most disadvantaged and excluded.
 
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