The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how quickly infectious diseases can spread and, in an ever-connected world, rapidly cross borders and become an urgent threat to global health security. The same is true for many other highly contagious diseases, such as typhoid and cholera, which is why routine immunisation is so critical to protect and keep people healthy.

Health workers are on the frontline of every outbreak, often at the risk of their own safety and security. The world cannot defeat outbreaks and pandemics without committed health workers tirelessly striving to save lives and tackle threats. We must celebrate their work, thank them for their service and pay tribute to their critical role in global health security.

Here, we shine a light on some vaccine heroes who are working in the world’s poorest countries to protect the next generation:

Gavi / Isaac Griberg

Shabnoor

“My job is to ensure that everyone understands why vaccines are so important. The relationship of trust is essential, in particular for community health workers.”

Shabnoor is 19 years old and was born in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Today, she is a community health worker and goes from door to door to identify unvaccinated children and give parents information about vaccines.

Sonia

“Vaccines help prevent diseases, and they save a lot of lives. I became a health worker to help people stay healthy and find peace.”

Sonia works at a UNICEF Bangladesh primary health care centre in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. She provides vaccines and other health services to Rohingya refugees sheltering there. She became a health worker because she wanted to put her skills to good use.

Gavi / Isaac Griberg
Photo: Gavi / Isaac Griberg

Etelvina

“When I started to work in the Nampula province, many parents refused to vaccinate their children. They thought that the cholera vaccine we were giving them actually was the cause of the disease. It was really hard work to make parents understand that the vaccine helps to keep their families healthy. Together with religious leaders, we organised information sessions to dispel rumours.”

Etelvina is 35 years old and comes from Maputo, Mozambique. For ten years, she has worked as a community health worker, bringing vaccines and health services to people living in hard-to-reach areas of the country.

Marta

“We start the immunisation session at 07:00 and continue until at least 15:30, but we don’t finish before the last person in line has been vaccinated. Many mothers rush during their lunch break to bring their children here as they cannot afford to skip work.”

Marta is leading a team of health workers at the immunisation ward of Centro de Saúde do Alto Maé in Maputo. She always dreamt of becoming a health worker, like her mother before her.

Photo: Gavi / Isaac Griberg
Credit: @SaveTheChildren / Hanna Adcock

Ifra

“Measles infects the most people. Polio also used to infect many people but after the vaccinations and the awareness-raising, rates are now low. The community welcomes me warmly and come for the vaccination from very far away.”

Ifra is a health worker in a remote part of the Somali region of Ethiopia. She has seen how community attitudes have changed over the years towards the immunisation programme, and how it’s protecting more children than ever before.

Yakubu

“Lately, we have seen an increasing number of parents coming to the health centre with yellow referral cards, which indicates that it's time for a child to get vaccinated. When children are immunised, they are protected from infections and diseases. As a nurse, protecting my community with vaccines makes me happy and fulfilled.”

Yakubu is a nurse working in Savelugu Nanton, northern Ghana.

Photo: @UNICEFGhana

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