Interview with Niklas Danielsson, Senior Immunisation Specialist, UNICEF
How is UNICEF involved in humanitarian and development sectors?
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers. Our focus is always on what is best for children and we defend, promote and protect children’s rights, the right to be counted at birth, the right to protection from hunger and exploitation, the right to clean water and sanitation, the right to education, the right to be vaccinated and the right to have access to essential health services.
How is UNICEF represented in East Africa and what are the key initiatives/programmes/projects being implemented in the region?
UNICEF is represented throughout East Africa with country offices and national and international staff who work with government counterparts and non-governmental organizations in the areas of health, education, nutrition, social protection and water and sanitation.
What does your role as Senior Immunisation Specialist entail?
My role is to support UNICEF staff in our country offices in the area of immunization, to equip them with the knowledge, tools and other resources they need when supporting governments to do an even better job of vaccinating children.
What initiatives/programmes/projects are you involved in?
Vaccination is one of the most effective and powerful public health interventions available. Thirty years ago, polio paralysed more than 350 000 children in a single year. Last year, just 37 children were paralysed by wild polio virus. That is a 99.9% reduction in suffering and a huge economic gain: it is estimated that polio vaccination has saved US$27 billion in health care costs since 1988. The world is now on the brink of eradicating polio and it is not unlikely that 2017 will be the last year when children were paralysed by wild polio virus. Other vaccine-preventable diseases are heading the same way as polio. Measles deaths have fallen from 550 000 in 2000 to 90 000 in 2017 and the measles vaccination is estimated to save 1.3 million lives every year. Most of those 90 000 measles deaths occur in Africa and this is a huge challenge to the continent. Measles is difficult to control because it spreads so easily and it is only when countries sustain very high vaccination uptake of 95% that measles transmission stops.
Which are your main priorities for 2017/2018?
I, and many with me, are concerned that the increase in vaccination coverage has plateaued in Africa over the last decade. There is an urgent need for innovation, new ideas and additional resources for delivering vaccines to all children on the continent.
What trends and challenges do you see in tackling communicable diseases and improving maternal and child health in Africa?
Vaccination coverage has plateaued in Africa and the increase has been less than 1% over the last decade. That doesn’t mean that some countries have not increased their vaccination coverage, but it has been off-set by other countries’ coverage declining and the average for the continent has not improved. So, although more children than ever are being vaccinated, because the number of children born each year is going up, the proportion of fully vaccinated children has stayed the same. This means that full potential of vaccines to improve children’s health and survival is not being reached. Immunization programs have reached a cross-roads and it has become obvious that “business as usual” will not improve coverage. There is a need to do things differently, to innovate and to come up with new solutions to old challenges. Currently, one in five children does not receive life-saving vaccinations despite governments’ best efforts.
What will your presentation/speaker panel at the Aid & Development Africa Summit address and why is it important for those attending to engage in this topic?
There are many reasons for why 20% of children are missed but among the more important explanations are that we don’t know who the unvaccinated children are, where they live and how to contact their parents when the children are not brought back for the next vaccination. But this is where technology and public - private partnerships can make a difference. It is now technically possible and economically viable to record and track the vaccination of all children in a country with electronic immunization registers (EIRs). The technology is based on the use of handheld electronic devices for recording vaccinations, tablets or smartphones, that are connect to a database over the mobile network. Using such a digital work tool, health workers can register a child in the EIR at birth or the first vaccination contact and then keep track of all subsequent vaccinations. The registration includes contact details for the parents - including mobile phone numbers when available. A QR-code sticker is put on the child’s immunization card that is kept by the mother. At the next visit, the child’s electronic record can be retrieved in a second by scanning the QR-code with the tablet’s camera. Vaccinations are recorded on the tablet with the help of drop-down menus much faster than recording in facility register books and tally sheets. The tablet becomes a work tool for the vaccinator that reduces the amount of time they have to spend on recording in tally sheets and log books. The EIR helps with follow up and recall. Health workers can generate lists of children who have not returned for vaccination and contact the parents directly or contact the Community Health Worker in the village where the child lives.
What is your impression of the upcoming Aid & Development Africa Summit 2018 so far?
This will be the first AIDF summit for me and I have high expectations.
Why is it important for you/UNICEF to engage in such events?
It is very appropriate that the summit takes place in Africa, where the challenges are and where the people who can overcome the challenges are. It is the talented young men and women in the countries who have come up the solutions that work best here.
To summarise, what is the key message or learning from your work that you’d like to share with the AIDF audience prior to the Summit?
Good ideas and innovations do not grow in isolation. They grow out of collaboration and team work, among people with shared visions for a better future.
Niklas Danielsson, Senior Immunisation Specialist, UNICEF, will take part in a session on Communicable Diseases at the 3rd Aid & Development Africa Summit on 27-28 February 2018 at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.
For more information on UNICEF, visit www.unicef.org. For more information on the Aid & Development Africa Summit, visit www.africa.aidforum.org or email Alina O'Keeffe, Head of Marketing, AIDF at firstname.lastname@example.org