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Press ReleasesMay 29, 2024

UN Foundation’s Shot@Life and United to Beat Malaria launch Healthy Start for Refugee Children initiative 

Partnership aims to provide vital health services to one million displaced children in East Africa.


 GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (May 29, 2024)—The United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life and United to Beat Malaria campaigns have joined forces to launch a new initiative—Healthy Start for Refugee Children—with the goal of providing 1 million refugee and displaced children with access to life-saving health services.

The Healthy Start for Refugee Children (Healthy Start) initiative was announced today during the 77th World Health Assembly in Geneva, at a time when rates of displacement worldwide are surging due to conflict and climate-related disasters. The number of displaced people globally has doubled over the past decade: as of June 2023, there were more than 110 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including over 43 million children. These children face immense challenges, including inadequate access to healthcare services, malnutrition, and heightened exposure to infectious diseases such as malaria, measles and rotavirus. Healthy Start will support frontline partners like the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to not only expand healthcare access to displaced populations, but also strengthen health systems within refugee camps and host communities. 

“No child, regardless of where they live, should get sick or die from a preventable, treatable disease like malaria,” said Margaret McDonnell, Executive Director of United to Beat Malaria. “Healthy Start will ensure that children who have had to flee their homes and face staggering inequities will have access to life-saving interventions and innovations, providing them a healthy start to life.”     

“Access to healthcare is a fundamental yet often unrealized right, especially for displaced children. This partnership marks a crucial step in providing essential services to vulnerable populations across East Africa,” said Martha Rebour, Executive Director of Shot@Life. Shot@Life has been protecting the most vulnerable children and ensuring their access to health services for more than 12 years, and we are proud to continue this mission through our collaboration with the UNHCR. 

All too often, host countries lack the funding and support to ensure adequate healthcare for displaced populations living within their borders. For displaced children, lack of healthcare access could mean exclusion from immunization drives, malaria prevention efforts such as bed net distribution, and other life-saving programs.  

The Healthy Start initiative will help fill these healthcare gaps by providing a range of essential health services for displaced children and their families, including childhood immunizations; malaria prevention, treatment, and diagnosis; and nutritional support. In addition, the initiative aims to strengthen health systems within these camps and host communities by recruiting and training refugee community health workers to conduct behavior change communication campaigns. These outreach efforts will provide displaced families with vital health information about disease prevention, collect disease data to improve surveillance efforts, and promote early health seeking behavior.  

“For over 15 years, UNHCR has partnered with the UN Foundation to provide life-saving malaria services and other health interventions to over five million displaced people across 23 countries. This partnership is more important than ever as global displacement numbers, health care needs and financing gaps continue to grow. The Healthy Start initiative will not only protect one million children from deadly diseases, but also strengthen health response capacity in under-resourced, overcrowded settlements and host community settings,” said Dr. Allen Maina, Chief of Public Health at UNHCR. 

The initiative will focus on some of the most volatile, high-displacement border regions in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda. In recent years, these three countries have endured a convergence of armed conflicts and climate crises.  

The Sudanese civil war has forced millions of people to spill over the borders of South Sudan and Ethiopia—two countries that continue to see sporadic armed conflicts themselves. Violence in these countries—along with the continued conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo—has driven millions into Uganda, which now hosts the most refugees in all of Africa.  

Climate shocks have further stoked instability in the region. South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia have each endured historic levels of drought and flooding in recent years, which have fueled this displacement crisis, constrained access to healthcare, and further increased the risk of mosquito and water-borne diseases.   

Visit the Healthy Start website to learn how you can take action. If your organization or company is interested in partnering and supporting this initiative, reach out to us via email:


Shot@Life is a grassroots advocacy campaign of the United Nations Foundation that champions global childhood immunization. Shot@Life has trained over 4,000 core grassroots advocates in the United States, across all 50 states, that strive to decrease vaccine-preventable childhood deaths and give every child a shot at life no matter where they live. These volunteer advocates raise awareness about this issue with their members of Congress and in communities across the United States. Learn more and see how you can join here

United to Beat Malaria 

The UN Foundation’s United to Beat Malaria campaign brings together key and diverse partners and supporters to take urgent action to end malaria and create a healthier, more equitable world. Since 2006, United to Beat Malaria has worked to equip and mobilize citizens across the U.S. and around the world to raise awareness, funds and voices. The campaign works with partners in endemic countries to channel life-saving resources to protect the most marginalized and vulnerable populations. By championing increased leadership, political will and resources from the U.S. and beyond, as well as more holistic, innovative tools and strategies, we can be the generation that ends malaria once and for all. Learn more at  

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. UNHCR leads international action to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. UNHCR delivers life-saving assistance, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place called home where they can build a better future. It also works to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality. UNHCR works in over 130 countries, using its expertise to protect and care for millions.