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Ukraine’s Deputy Health Minister Olha Stefanyshyna: Protecting the population against infectious vaccine-preventable diseases is a key priority

9 November 2018

On November 8-9, 2018, the International conference (XVI) "Aspects of Immunology in Pediatrics" takes place in Kyiv, bringing together Ukrainian and European experts to discuss current challenges in pediatric immunology. Olha Stefanyshyna, Deputy Minister of Health of Ukraine, delivered an insightful speech at the conference opening (English translation of the original Ukrainian speech, as delivered).

I would like to welcome all the participants of the Conference here today. I would also like to welcome the opening of this important event, which brings together experts not only from Ukraine but also from the European Union.

The issue that has brought us all together today does not recognize borders. Immunization is the humanity's common endeavor, and the scientific research development in all areas of immunology and immunotherapy is, therefore, a promising medical field, in which cooperation will contribute to a better future for humanity, considering the prospective discoveries and great breakthroughs.

Like many other EU countries, Ukraine currently faces some of the challenges of immunization:

  • This includes an ongoing measles outbreak. A 12-year-old child has recently died of measles. Since the beginning of the year, 15 people, including 11 children, have died of measles in Ukraine. The majority of cases have been recorded among those who are not properly vaccinated against measles.
  • This also includes a crisis of public confidence and trust in vaccination as the only effective way to protect against infectious diseases at the level of both states and entire regions of the world, and an increase in anti-immunization activism, including through the deliberate distortion of facts and information. Just a few months ago, American researchers published an analytical report demonstrating that Russian bots and trolls had been deliberately fueling anti-vaccination conflicts via social media in Europe.
  • This case draws attention to another challenge to implementing the country-level immunization programs – a lack of communication aimed at restoring confidence in vaccines and vaccination, dispelling vaccination myths and providing useful information on the benefits of vaccination and the availability of vaccines.

The protection of the population against infectious vaccine-preventable diseases is a priority for the Health Ministry. Vaccination is a shield that protects national security. Systemic and progressive changes in the national healthcare system have already yielded notable positive results.

In particular, Ukraine, for the first time in a long while, has sufficient vaccines for vaccinations in accordance with the national recommended routine immunization schedule.

The highly efficient public procurement of vaccines implemented by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has allowed us to provide Ukrainians with high-quality, safe vaccines from the world’s best manufacturers. These vaccines are pre-qualified by the World Health Organization.

In addition, we have introduced the three-year rolling vaccine procurement plans to secure a sustainable supply of vaccines for the population of Ukraine, and to avoid stockouts of vaccines nationwide due to manufacturing issues and supply shortages in the global market.

For the first time ever, the state provides free medicines to patients with primary immunodeficiencies, who were previously forced to sell their property to purchase the required medicines that were too expensive.

Unfortunately, despite sufficient supplies of routinely recommended vaccines, the immunization rates remain unsatisfactory. The Ministry of Health of Ukraine has therefore adopted a number of important procedural decisions aimed at increasing the accessibility of vaccines. For instance, we have eliminated the bureaucratic barriers to vaccine redistribution among the regions.

The vaccines procured for the state budget funds are provided to all citizens free of charge, now including by private PHC clinics and physicians who have signed contracts with the National Health Service of Ukraine and actually fulfill their obligations to provide high-quality primary healthcare services to patients.

The national immunization strategy has been developed and discussed with the public, and it is now being finalized to be submitted to the Ukrainian Government for approval.

The Ministry’s team is indeed proud of the important improvements made over the past few years, as these changes actually contribute to a better healthcare and immunization experience of millions of Ukrainians. It is worth noting that all these victories would have been impossible without your participation.

Teams consisting of representatives of all stakeholders usually work on all government decisions. Therefore, we are implementing all the changes together – together with doctors, researchers, healthcare managers.

I would like to conclude my short statement by congratulating everyone on the 25th anniversary of the Department of Children's Infectious Diseases and Pediatric Immunology, and on the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Shupyk National Medical Academy of Postgraduate Education of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. I wish the whole team all of the inspiration to succeed in future scientific and educational work, to make new discoveries and to achieve both common and individual goals. Your contribution to the development and protection of Ukraine cannot be overemphasized. Thank you for your time, and I wish you a fruitful conference ahead.

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