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Pacific Children Get Health Boost With Government Immunization Commitments

Nine Pacific countries have committed to greater protection for children against life threatening diseases by expanding their immunization programme that has been implemented by UNICEF in collaboration with Ministries of Health and funding from Rotary since 2020.

The commitment will see vaccines for Pneumococcal Disease, Rotavirus, and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) added to the nations’ National Programmes for Immunization. The inclusion of the vaccines will benefit children in Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, Tokelau and Kiribati.

UNICEF Pacific’s Representative, Jonathan Veitch said, “Immunization 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.”

“We thank Rotary and the Pacific Island governments for their critical long-term partnership with UNICEF to protect children and young people from vaccine-preventable diseases. Especially in this region where pneumonia and diarrhoea are among the Pacific’s top childhood killers,” Mr. Veitch said.

In the Pacific, pneumonia and diarrhoea are among the top three causes of mortality in children under five years of age, while around one-third of all pneumonia deaths are due to pneumococcal disease.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children aged less than five years. Severe diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, particularly in young children, and if left untreated can be life-threatening.

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With a high burden of cervical cancer cases in the Pacific, most of which are attributed to HPV infection, the introduction of HPV vaccine in adolescent girls will contribute to the reduction of preventable deaths.

UNICEF will continue to support routine immunization programmes in the Pacific Island Countries, including through strengthening effective vaccine management practices, engaging communities to create vaccine demand, and the procurement and delivery of quality as well as effective vaccines at an affordable cost to the governments.

Since the Rotary ‘Give Every Child a Future’ project’s inception, it has supported the countries to strengthen the supply chain, including the cold chain system to ensure that every child has timely access to safe and potent vaccines.

Delivering vaccines to the most remote islands and communities in itself is a task for healthcare workers in the Pacific. They have to climb mountains, cross rivers, ride horseback and boats to reach every child with vaccines.

Rotary Project Director, James Allen, has been leading Rotary fundraising in Australia and New Zealand, and said, “Pacific countries are our near neighbours and we’re proud of the contribution we have made to protect children and adolescents in the region against life-threatening illnesses including pneumonia, diarrhoea, and cervical cancer.”

“Rotary is committed to strengthening communities and health systems to ensure sustainable access to health care for mothers and children everywhere. Generations of children in Australia and New Zealand have had the benefit of free routine immunization programmes for these diseases and we know how critical preventative care is for infants and children."

“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,” Mr. Allen said.

To date, fundraisers from Rotary have contributed US$3.9 million, through the project implemented by UNICEF, in cooperation with the nations’ Ministries of Health and supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

UNICEF remains committed to ensuring that all children and adolescents have good health, wellbeing and reach their full potential.

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