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How UNICEF is saving lives and providing vaccines to 40 per cent of the world’s children

By Andrea Ramhit

All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are, have the right to survive and thrive. That’s at the core of UNICEF’s work in more than 190 countries – and it’s a vision shared by many Canadians.

That said, we can’t accept that 16,000 children under age five die every day from mostly preventable causes.  We can’t accept that 18.7 million babies do not receive basic vaccinations. And we can’t accept that diseases we have eradicated or eliminated here in Canada continue to claim children’s lives worldwide.

UNICEF has saved more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization and we have achieved this with a mix of proven, life-saving interventions and new, innovative solutions to reach the world’s most vulnerable children.

Take vaccines, for example. They are one of the simplest, most cost-effective and most successful ways to save lives. As the largest procurer of vaccines, UNICEF provides vaccines to 40 per cent of the world’s children.

But it’s not just about working to vaccinate every child. We’re also working to completely rid the world of diseases like polio and maternal and neonatal tetanus.

We’re working to make history. 

Why do we think this is possible?  Well, we’ve made history before.

A ‘revolution’ as vaccination rates skyrocket with UNICEF efforts

From 1980 to 1995, UNICEF helped save an estimated 25 million lives with vaccinations.
© UNICEF/UNI124767/Isaac


In 1983, UNICEF Executive Director Jim Grant launched the Child Survival and Development Revolution. With investments in several low-cost interventions (like vaccinations and breastfeeding), Grant set out to save millions of children’s lives. And it worked. Under his leadership from 1980 to 1995, UNICEF helped save an estimated 25 million lives. Global childhood vaccination rates increased from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. Grant also urged countries to create national action plans and adopt international goals for child survival and child rights – changing the world for the better.

Working to eradicate and eliminate diseases for good

UNICEF and partners are working to eradicate polio for good.
© UNICEF/UNI103532/Zaidi

Polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere. UNICEF is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative which aims to eradicate the crippling disease by 2019. We’re 99 per cent of the way there – and recent successes to end polio in India and Nigeria reinforce that we’re on the brink of global change. The disease remains endemic in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. But with support from our community and key partners like the Government of Canada, we can have a polio-free world very soon.

> Help us eradicate polio.


© UNICEF/UNI99684/Pirozzi

Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) is a painful and fatal disease for newborns. It’s contracted when an unsterile blade is used to cut the umbilical cord, infecting vulnerable babies during their first moments of life. Fortunately, MNT is completely preventable. When a woman of childbearing age is immunized, she passes on her immunity to her unborn children. UNICEF and partners have eliminated MNT in 38 countries and we continue to tackle the 21 countries that remain. With support from Kiwanis Clubs across the country and a funding match from the Government of Canada, we will ensure that no mother loses a child to MNT ever again.

> Protect families with a Mother and Baby Tetanus Pack.

Measles is a leading cause of death among children even though a safe and inexpensive vaccine exists.
© UNICEF/UN02929/Rich

Measles is a leading cause of death among children even though a safe and inexpensive vaccine exists. Since 2000, vaccines have saved 17.1 million lives, yet 115,000 people still die every year.  UNICEF and partners are working to prevent another 13.4 million deaths in the world’s poorest countries by 2020 – and if we can reach every child, we can stop measles for good.

> See what’s inside a measles prevention kit.

Getting vaccines to children in conflict zones

To protect children caught in conflict, UNICEF vaccinators reach those in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.
© UNICEF/UNI199370/Khuzaie

Almost two-thirds of children who have not been immunized against deadly or debilitating diseases live in countries affected by conflict. The breakdown of vital health services, the killing of health workers and the destruction of medical facilities, supplies and equipment can all have disastrous effects on children’s health. To protect children caught in conflict, UNICEF vaccinators reach those in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

UNICEF was also the first to introduce “days of tranquility” and “zones of peace” to the world: temporary ceasefires to provide life-saving care. The first days of tranquility occurred in El Salvador in 1985, when fighting stopped for three days to allow 250,000 children to be vaccinated. UNICEF will always work to ensure that children caught in crisis are not forgotten.

> Read more about our vaccination work for children caught in conflict.

Cold chain: innovating to ensure vaccines are delivered unspoiled  

UNICEF is constantly innovating to keep vaccines – and children – safe.
© UNICEF/Pakistan/Sergiy Prokhorov

Delivering vaccines from where they are produced to children in remote communities, unspoiled, is a huge undertaking. This process is called the “cold chain” and it requires every facility, truck and cooler to maintain a steady temperature of +2˚C to +8˚C. Any fluctuations in temperature can spoil the vaccine. As an organization that manages cold chains in many countries, UNICEF is constantly innovating to keep vaccines – and children – safe. In his blog post, UNICEF’s Sergiy Prokhorov reports that cold room facilities in Pakistan “are now being equipped with a Central Monitoring System (CMS), which allows online recording and reporting of the temperature inside of the cold rooms. It does real-time cold room temperature monitoring and immediately informs the store keeper via SMS or email if a temperature fluctuates or a door is left open.” (Read more here.) With our teams, innovation has no limits.

No child too far

Since every child has the right to health, we will keep working to reach every last child, no matter how far they may be or the obstacles in our way.
© UNICEF/UNI199140/Panday

Since every child has the right to health, we will keep working to reach every last child, no matter how far they may be or the obstacles in our way. Because no child is too far.

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