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By Lara Robertson
1 May 2024

Every child deserves a future, but sadly, in the Pacific, preventable diseases are among the top causes of mortality for children aged under five. But thanks to the support of the ‘Rotary Give Every Child a Future’ program, UNICEF has been able to work with Pacific governments to provide lifesaving vaccines in some of the hardest-to-reach communities over the past four years, ensuring every child in the Pacific can reach their full potential.

We are pleased to announce that access to these lifesaving vaccines will continue post 2025 after nine Pacific governments added vaccines for pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, and human papillomavirus (HPV) to their National Programs for Immunisation. These vaccines will have a lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of children and young people in Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, Tokelau and Kiribati.

This incredible achievement was made possible thanks to the support of our Rotary partners and those who generously donated to the ‘Rotary Give Every Child a Future’ program.

"We congratulate the Pacific nations committing to continue the vital work Rotary started with UNICEF and the Ministries of Health for the benefit of the youngest Pacific islanders for decades to come."

James Allen
Rotary Project Director
A mother holds her young son as they interact with an older man in Kiribati.
Little Tebaabo and his mother, Temoua, from Kiribati meet James Allen, the Rotary Give Every Child a Future Project Director. “I want my youngest child to be vaccinated because I know that small children in Kiribati are confronted by different types of illness,” Temoua said.
© UNICEF/UN0820249/Itaea

As we celebrate the success of this incredible program, let’s look back at how the project came about, its key achievements, and some of the stories of those who helped make it possible.

A crisis in the Pacific

Children are naturally resilient against the thousands of germs that they’re exposed to every day. Yet, there are some deadly diseases that they can’t fight, and their only defence is lifesaving vaccines. While there have been improvements in services in the Pacific over the years, the most vulnerable and hardest to reach children are still being left behind. 

"Every year in the Pacific families grieve the loss of 1,500 children who die before their fifth birthday."

Dr Frances Katonivualiku
UNICEF Pacific Health and Nutrition Specialist

With inadequate access to clean drinking water, poor health systems, limited government resources, climate crises and limited healthcare access for families living in remote areas, too many children in the Pacific are missing out on routine vaccines, leaving them at risk of developing deadly but preventable diseases. 

A mother cradles her infant child in her arms as a medical worker provides a dose of an oral vaccine.
Bwatera’s 6-week-old son is one of the thousands of children who received their routine vaccinations as part of the ‘Rotary Give Every Child a Future’ program.
© UNICEF Australia and Rotary/2023/Lehn

Diarrhoea and pneumonia are among the top three causes of mortality in children under five years of age in the Pacific. Around one-third of all pneumonia deaths are due to pneumococcal disease, and rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children aged under five, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. High rates of cervical cancer – largely caused by HPV infection – are also having a devastating impact on the lives of adolescent girls in the Pacific. 

But thanks to the ‘Rotary Give Every Child a Future’ program, more children across the Pacific are receiving lifesaving vaccines to protect them against these potentially deadly diseases.

"Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions to date and has safely reduced the scourge of diseases, helping children grow up healthy and happy."

Jonathan Veitch
UNICEF Pacific’s Representative

What UNICEF and our partners achieved

Since the program began, funds raised by Rotary Foundation, Rotary Zone 8, Australia and New Zealand, and with the support of DFAT, have contributed US$3.9 million to the program, helping us to procure, transport and store vaccines and provide technical assistance and training to health workers, including educating parents and caregivers about the importance of routine immunisation for children and young people. With the support of Pacific governments and our partners, we’ve been able to advocate for the strengthening of national childhood immunisation programs through policies and legislation.

Despite facing numerous challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters, the program vaccinated up to 100,000 children against life-threatening diseases including rotavirus, pneumococcal disease, and HPV. In addition, the program saw more than 230,000 parents and caretakers in the Pacific given knowledge and skills to adopt recommended immunisation practices. This has changed the lives of thousands of children and adolescents in the Pacific, ensuring they can live happy, healthy futures.

US$3.9 million

Raised by Rotary Foundation, Rotary Zone 8 Australia and New Zealand and DFAT for the program.

Up to 100,000

Children and young people in the Pacific will be reached with lifesaving vaccines.

More than 230,000

Parents and caregivers in the Pacific given knowledge and skills to adopt recommended immunisation practices.

We spoke to UNICEF Pacific Health and Nutrition Specialist, Dr Frances Katonivualiku, who has seen firsthand the impact the new vaccines were having on children’s and adolescent’s health in the Pacific. She said since the new vaccines were introduced through the program, the number of cases and deaths related to pneumonia and rotavirus have “dropped significantly” across the Pacific.

Raising community awareness about children’s and adolescent’s health was another aim of the program, and Dr Katonivualiku said that engaging with communities directly helped to reduce vaccine hesitancy and achieve high coverage for the new vaccines in the nine countries they were introduced.

"Rotary’s Give Every Child a Future Program is making a tangible difference by ensuring access to lifesaving vaccines and promoting better health outcomes for children and adolescents in the Pacific. "

Dr Frances Katonivualiku
UNICEF Pacific Health and Nutrition Specialist

Together, we have already achieved so much. UNICEF will continue to support immunisation programs for children in the Pacific by strengthening effective vaccine management practices, educating communities on the importance of routine immunisation, and the procurement and delivery of quality and effective vaccines.

A male health worker embraces his two young children in a health facility in Kiribati.
Kakora, a dad and public health nurse at a UNICEF-supported health clinic in Kiribati, has seen the program's positive impact. “My kids are in good health now. Since they have received their vaccinations, and I have not seen any diarrhoea, pneumonia or any other serious diseases in them,” he said.
© UNICEF/UN0820257/Itaea

How UNICEF is protecting children’s futures in the Pacific and beyond

Working in more than 190 countries and territories around the world, UNICEF is the world’s largest supporter of routine immunisation for children. With the support of our partners including Rotary, UNICEF works with the Ministries of Health across the globe to vaccinate almost half the world’s children under five, every year. 

2024 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Expanded Program on Immunisation (EPI), an initiative to immunise every child against preventable diseases, launched by the World Health Organisation in 1974 and supported by UNICEF, Rotary International, and other partners. Over the past five decades, the program has overseen the development and introduction of vaccines targeting life-threatening diseases including pneumococcal, rotavirus, HPV, meningitis A, Japanese encephalitis, and malaria.

We’re committed to ensuring all children and adolescents have good health and can reach their full potential. Thanks to the support of generous people like you and partners like Rotary, UNICEF can reach more children with lifesaving vaccines to give every child, everywhere, a future. 

A nurse prepares a vaccination as a mother comforts her infant child. A UNICEF- and Rotary-branded blue vaccination storage box sits to the side.
6-month-old Kolina is about to receive her vaccination during the official roll-out of the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in the Cook Islands.
© UNICEF/UN0634527/Sosene

For every child, immunisation

Every child deserves the same protection against preventable diseases, no matter where they live.

Together, we can support governments, communities and local partners in the Pacific and beyond, creating a ripple effect of good health practices for generations to come.

Vaccinate Children. Save Lives.

Protect children against preventable diseases with lifesaving vaccines by donating today.