UN in Myanmar is supporting essential health services for children, including immunisation, amid COVID-19 response

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Midwife wearing face mask and shield inoculates a child, Myitkyina Town, Kachin State. © UNICEF Myanmar/2020

The UN in Myanmar has come together as one to support COVID-19 preparedness and response. The next in a series of articles highlights UNICEF's contribution.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is committed to supporting the Government of Myanmar’s efforts to fight COVID-19 and to ensuring that children and their families are able to continue to access essential health and nutrition services to keep them healthy and safe during the global pandemic and beyond.

Collaborating with the Government and other partners, UNICEF is focusing on preventative actions to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and mitigating the secondary impacts of the crisis. This includes providing vital supplies and logistical support, and maintaining community access to critical health and nutrition services. In practice, this ensures that women and children continue to receive life-saving services such as institutional deliveries, essential newborn care, and treatment of severe diarrhoeal disease, pneumonia and malnutrition, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene services. Immunizations are included in this package of necessary health services.

Facilitating resumption of immunisation programmes, while ensuring broader COVID-19 response

Immunization must be done in a timely manner with required doses of quality vaccines, to save the lives of children and reduce the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks especially in the remote, hard-to-reach and conflict-affected ethnic areas where the health needs are considerable. However, at the pandemic outbreak, the national immunization programme in Myanmar was temporarily suspended during April and May 2020. Children living in remote, rural, difficult-to-reach terrains are highly affected by the disruption of immunization services. Fear of contracting COVID-19 prevents caregivers from accessing immunization services. Around 160,000 children aged under one-year old missed routine immunization and are now being targeted in ‘catch up’ immunizations that take place in hospitals (20 percent) and through outreach to smaller health facilities and villages (80 percent).

UNICEF has been working closely with the Ministry of Health and Sports, WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and other partners, with guidance from the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, to facilitate the systematic resumption of immunizations. For instance, new procedures are needed to ensure that immunizations can be carried out effectively with minimized risks of COVID-19 transmission. UNICEF is assisting with the planning, development and implementation of revised standard operating procedures for immunization resumption activities and preparations of the immunization facilities. Emphasis is on micro-planning, infection control measures, monitoring and supervision using checklists.

UNICEF is also ensuring adequate supplies of vaccines. On 1 June 2020, UNICEF delivered 1.16 million government-procured doses of routine immunization vaccines by chartered cargo flight. UNICEF is collecting vaccine stock data from all township cold stores and making necessary shipments from the central cold room, coordinating timely supplies of vaccines from the manufacturers.

Further UNICEF work is focused on procuring infection prevention and control materials such as sanitisers, disinfectant, masks and personal protective equipment and distributing these to vaccination posts, schools, early childhood development centres, health and nutrition facilities and NGO partners. UNICEF procured 20,000 COVID-19 test kits, reagents and viral transport medium and is procuring over two million pieces of personal protective equipment supplies for 98 hospitals, to assist in the protection of health workers and patients.

When routine immunisation resumed towards the end of May 2020, UNICEF supported the central Expanded Programme on Immunization (cEPI) in releasing the revised Standard Operating Procedures for immunization. Advocacy among local authorities and health workers using relevant and contemporary information, education and communication materials is building awareness and capacities. Innovative infographic virtual training materials and Youtube videos clearly outlining the new procedures and roles of health staff and volunteers are being disseminated through the Ministry of Health and Sports network targeting all basic health staff and volunteers. Zoom meetings with State and Region public health teams and Township Medical Officers are reinforcing key messages for the safe resumption of immunization services.

Raising awareness on the risks of communicable diseases, including COVID-19

Immunization sessions are being used as opportunities to communicate with and increase awareness of COVID-19 among communities and vulnerable groups, as well as the health workforce and volunteers. UNICEF is supporting the production of 5.8 million flyers, posters and other information, education and communication materials, in Myanmar language and 17 ethnic languages, which are being distributed in key areas such as immunization facilities, quarantine centres, hospitals, public markets and bus terminals.

Vinyl posters promoting public awareness and demand for the resumption of immunization services highlight the urgent changes taking place in these services. The posters and other specially-developed communication tools inform mothers to wear masks and children to wear face shields when they come to the vaccination posts, to wash hands at the basins which have been installed by UNICEF before entering the vaccination sites and to follow the six-feet apart physical distancing signage to avoid crowding. Protective measures at the screening points involve all mothers and children getting their body temperatures checked.

Together with the Government of Myanmar and other partners, UNICEF is dedicated to ensuring that children and families in Myanmar have continued access to the critical health and nutrition services they need. By providing efficient logistical support, timely delivery of vital supplies and services, and relevant technical advice, UNICEF is improving the lives of children and women in Myanmar.

UN entities involved in this initiative

United Nations Children’s Fund