NGOs join efforts to increase immunization coverage in Ukraine

Parents for Vaccination

European Immunization Week 2017 began in Ukraine with a flashmob to raise awareness about vaccines

Reaching and maintaining high immunization coverage requires the engagement of all actors in society. By contributing to European Immunization Week (EIW) in April 2017, two recently established nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine, Parents for Vaccination and the Ukrainian Academy of Paediatrics, demonstrated the key role of civil society in helping the Government and international partners raise awareness among the general public and health professionals.

Addressing gaps in trust and knowledge

Ukraine has the lowest coverage of immunization against all of the vaccine-preventable antigens and the highest number of un- and under-vaccinated children in the WHO European Region. Trust in immunization deteriorated significantly following mismanagement of an adverse event following immunization in 2008, and the country’s immunization programme remains weak despite efforts of the Ministry of Health and partner agencies to improve its performance. As a result of its low immunization coverage, preventable diseases including measles and rubella continue to circulate in the country.

Parents for Vaccination

During EIW, Parents for Vaccination initiated an innovative project to build public trust in immunization, called Change Agents, with support of WHO and Rotary International. Project activities included:

  • a flash mob on the first day of EIW to attract the attention of mass media and raise awareness among the public and stakeholders;
  • training of 120 change agents from 22 oblasts on key immunization facts and messages;
  • advocacy and communication materials;
  • awareness and trust building activities spread throughout Ukraine;
  • a large-scale parents’ meeting;
  • a press conference with leading specialists of the Ministry of Health, partner agencies and NGOs.

The meeting with parents was conducted under the leadership of Dr Yevgeny Komarovskiy –  a well-known paediatrician in Eastern Europe – who became a public figure through extensive use of social and mass media. The meeting reached thousands of parents through extensive media coverage, in addition to the hundreds who attended. The press conference covered key immunization issues and was well attended. Throughout the week, immunization was a leading topic in mass and social media.

Ukrainian Academy of Paediatrics (UAP)

UAP focuses on reaching paediatricians, who are key immunization service providers. With WHO support, UAP used EIW as an opportunity to conduct 1-day training courses for a large number of pediatricians in various cities in Ukraine, conveying key information on immunization to improve immunization service delivery and to strengthen participants’ commitment to immunization. UAP also initiated establishment of summer and winter schools on immunization to create new immunization advocates capable of effectively communicating the benefits and value of immunization.

Long-term commitment

Both NGOs are dedicated to continue their supportive activities until the immunization programme’s performance has been restored. Parents for Vaccination will conduct a continuous survey to assess the impact of their awareness- and trust- building activities. UAP will continue its training courses on immunization and will run the first round of its summer school on immunization in late July.

WHO will continue to support these and other NGOs in Ukraine, with the aim of building a coalition to serve and amplify all voices for vaccination in the country.