Equity is critical to protecting children against vaccine preventable diseases
22 April 2013, New Delhi: WHO has urged countries to reach out to the children who are still not protected from vaccine preventable diseases. World Immunization Week will be observed globally from 24 to 30 April 2013.
Recognized as one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, immunization saves an estimated 2 – 3 million lives every year globally. In 2011, an estimated 28.6 million children were immunized in the 11 countries of WHO’s South-East Asia Region against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (three doses of DTP/pentavalent vaccine). These are the most basic vaccines that serve as an indication of how many children are protected. Although progress has been made, estimated coverage in the Region remained stagnant at 75% in 2011. As a result an estimated 9.5 million children were not immunized with these vaccines in 2011.
From 2000 to 2011, coverage of measles containing vaccines (MCV) in the South-East Region increased from 61% to 79%. At current pace, Region will not reach the 2015 goal of reducing measles mortality by over 95%. While current efforts to accelerate measles control through supplementary immunization campaigns have reduced the number of susceptible children, progress needs to be accelerated to move faster than the disease.
In 2012, India, Myanmar and Nepal conducted successful measles vaccination campaigns (immunizing over 46 million children) – protecting susceptible children against measles. Countries must intensify efforts to reach high-risk, mobile and underserved populations to protect children from these vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Equity and access must remain the focus of our immunization programmes. Immunization is a proven investment with high returns for public health and economic growth. Countries in South-East Asia must recognize that immunization plays a critical role in ensuring that development is not stifled by increasing disease burden,” said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. “Countries need to implement new strategies to increase immunization coverage and surveillance performance,” he added.
Polio eradication reached a milestone in the Region by achieving a second year with no wild poliovirus reported since the last case was recorded in India on 13 January 2011. Although an important milestone, polio-free status requires sustained high-performance, sensitive surveillance networks and ensuring that any wild poliovirus is quickly detected if imported from neighbouring countries. Emergency preparedness and response plans have been put in place for countries to deploy rapid response teams to stop transmission in the event any cases are reported.
With support of WHO and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, countries are implementing risk assessments at national and sub national levels using new tools and methods developed for informing strategies to avoid polio outbreaks through importation. Efforts are also underway to ensure the Region remains on track for certification in February 2014 through country assessments and laboratory containment certification.
Lessons learnt, capacity and infrastructure built through the polio eradication programmes are being used to improve national immunization programmes, especially accelerating measles control efforts in light of continued outbreaks in different parts of the Region.
As part of intensification efforts, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India (in six more states), Maldives, Myanmar and Timor-Leste introduced pentavalent vaccines (DTP + hepatitis B + Hib) in 2012 to widen the protection of vaccine-preventable diseases. With support from immunization partners, including the GAVI Alliance, countries are using funding opportunities to introduce new vaccines to protect their populations. While introducing new technologies, countries need to use evidence-base data and robust disease-burden studies to decide which vaccines to introduce. Countries should also consider financial sustainability to inform the decision-making process.
Raising public awareness about immunization will save millions of lives. WHO in collaboration with Member States and immunization partners is committed to intensifying support for countries to increase routine immunization.
WHO’s South-East Asia Region comprises the following 11 Member States: Bangladesh, Bhutan, DPR Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
For more information please contact:
Ms Vismita Gupta-Smith
Public Information and Advocacy Officer
WHO South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO)
Telephone: + 91 11 23370804, Ext 26401