Immunise SA initiative

Discovery and UNICEF partner up, helping to close the gap in access to childhood vaccination.

Supporting the National Department of Health’s goal of eradicating preventable childhood diseases, UNICEF, in partnership with Discovery, launched Immunise SA today, a programme to improve the delivery of childhood vaccination. 

Initial focus areas for the rollout of Immunise SA will include districts where children are least likely to be fully immunised in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – provinces that have already recognised their gaps in providing full immunisation.  

Childhood immunisation is essential to the prevention of diseases that cause death and disability. It is estimated that tens of thousands of children are not fully immunised in South Africa each year, leaving them extremely vulnerable to diseases such as measles, diarrhoea, pneumonia, meningitis and other life threatening conditions. The Government’s immunisation programme expects to reach all newborns to prevent outbreaks of preventable disease and Immunise SA will enhance this endeavour.

Trends in estimated immunisation coverage prepared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, and the more recent measles outbreak, suggest that South Africa is facing a challenge in ensuring that every child’s right to full immunisation is realised.

Recent estimates for South Africa reveal that immunisation levels have dropped since 1994:

-          As many as 105,000 infants are not fully immunised in South Africa.

-          An estimated 400 000 children in South Africa are not fully immunised against measles. 

-          15% of deaths in children under five are due to diarrhoea and 9% are due to pneumonia, both vaccine preventable diseases of childhood.

-          Up to the end February 2011 nearly 19,000 cases of measles occurred in South Africa, of which 52 per cent were in children under 5. 

UNICEF Representative Aida Girma said “Immunisation is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions. Increasing access of children and mothers in deprived districts to high impact immunisation services is crucial if maternal and child mortality trends in South Africa are to be reversed.”

Dr. Penny Tlhabi, Head of Public Affairs at Discovery said “For Discovery, child health is an important area in South Africa where we can help to improve people’s lives. Through our partnership with UNICEF, we are committed to supporting the National Department of Health to improve access to immunization. In this way, we aim to help strengthen healthcare in South Africa, especially in critical areas of need.”

Immunisation is the most effective measure against serious diseases in childhood and prevents an estimated 2.5 million child deaths globally each year. Sadly, close to 23 million children worldwide are not protected by life-saving vaccinations each year. Without comprehensive immunisation coverage comes high risk of infection. Diseases under control, including polio and measles, could return in epidemic or pandemic proportions if not controlled carefully.

UNICEF is a global leader in supporting national governments to ensure children are vaccinated and, through global vaccine supply, reach 40 per cent of the world’s children. Immunisation is a central part of UNICEF’s commitment to protecting the world’s most vulnerable children.

Vaccines are free of charge at public local clinics and community health centers in South Africa.

Press release from Discovery (April 2011)

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