UNICEF has said that in 2016 it procured 2.5 billion doses of vaccines to children in nearly 100 countries, thereby reaching almost half of the world’s children under the age of five.

According to a statement sent from UNICEF Office in Abuja to Nigerian Pilot yesterday, the figure released during World Immunization Week; makes UNICEF the largest buyer of vaccines for children in the world.

The agency also laments that despite its efforts at ensuring a polio free world millions of children still miss out on life-saving immunization.

Yet an estimated 19.4 million children around the world still miss out on full vaccinations every year. Around two thirds of all unvaccinated children live in conflict-affected countries. Weak health systems, poverty and social inequities also mean that 1 in 5 children under- five is still not reached with life-saving vaccines, it said.

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UNICEF said it in the three remaining countries; it has procured almost 450 million doses of vaccines to Nigeria, 395 million in Pakistan and over 150 million in Afghanistan, making it the lead procurement agency for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

The agency’s statement read that between 2000 and 2015, under five deaths due to measles declined by 85 per cent and those due to neonatal tetanus by 83 per cent. A proportion of the 47 per cent reduction in pneumonia deaths and 57 per cent reduction in diarrheal deaths in this time are also attributed to vaccines.

Access to immunization has led to a dramatic decrease in deaths of children under five from vaccine-preventable diseases, and has brought the world closer to eradicating polio.

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Chief of Immunization at UNICEF Dr. Robin Nandy said , “All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are, have the right to survive and thrive, safe from deadly diseases.’’ “Since 1990, immunization 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.”

‘’Inequalities persist between rich and poor children. In countries where 80 per cent 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 the richest.’’

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Nandy said, “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.’’

“Overcrowding, poverty, poor hygiene and sanitation as well as inadequate nutrition and health care increase the risk of diseases such as pneumonia, diarrheal and measles in these communities; diseases that are easily preventable with vaccines.”

By 2030, an estimated 1 in 4 people will live in urban poor communities, mainly in Africa and Asia, meaning the focus and investment of immunization services must be tailored to the specific needs of these communities and children, UNICEF said.