Govts welcome new global immunization strategies

By Henry Neondo in GENEVA

Governments meeting at the World Health Assembly officially committed to adopting an ambitious new global strategy to fight vaccine-preventable diseases, which kill more than two million people every year, two-thirds of whom are young children.

The Global Immunization Vision and Strategy, GIVS, was designed by the World Health Organization, WHO, and the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"The new Vision and Strategy will enable us to rise to the serious challenges we foresee in the immunization field in the next decade. More people, from infants to seniors, must be protected from more diseases. We will take immunization to new heights, building on solid achievements of the past, and will bring good health to many more," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, WHO.

GIVS is aimed to immunize more people against more diseases, introduce a range of newly available vaccines and technologies and provide a number of critical health interventions with immunization.

GIVS covers the period 2006-2015 and offers a set of strategies from which countries can select and implement those most suited to their specific needs.

According to WHO, vaccination has been one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions in history.

It has eradicated smallpox, lowered the global incidence of polio by 99% since 1988, and achieved dramatic reductions in illness and death from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles. In 2003 alone, immunization averted more than two million deaths.

However, immunization is far from universal in many countries, and some countries are slipping back from previously established vaccination coverage levels.

In 2003, an estimated 27 million infants and 40 million pregnant women worldwide remained unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

"One in four children is still deprived of lifesaving vaccines that should be within reach," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

“This new Strategy recognizes that if we are to improve child survival, immunization must be sustained year in and year out."

Child health and survival will be improved through the delivery of a package of key health interventions, such as nutrition and insecticide-treated nets against malaria, at the point of immunization, especially for populations who are hard to reach.

The Strategy gives unprecedented attention to such people, who tend to be poor, socially marginalized and/or living in remote or underserved geographical areas such as urban slums and remote rural areas.

The WHo says that the goal is for each country to reach 80 per cent immunization coverage in each district by 2010.

But WHO fears that over the next ten years, the cost of immunization is expected to rise substantially as countries include the newer and more expensive vaccines in their immunization programmes.

Although these vaccines are still cost-effective, affordability will present a barrier to their use, particularly in low-income countries.

GIVS urges all stakeholders to increase resources for immunization, ensuring that affordable vaccines and the necessary funds for immunization are available to all countries, including for use in health emergencies and global epidemics.

With adequate efforts and financial support, by 2015, immunization could be preventing 4-5 million child deaths per year; and would contribute significantly to the Millennium Development Goals, especially the reduction by two-thirds of the under-five child mortality rate. GIVS sets a number of specific immunization goals, such as reducing measles mortality by 90% within the next five years from the 2000 level.

WHO and UNICEF will assist governments in designing, financing and implementing strengthened sustainable national immunization programmes that meet their specific, evidence-based needs. Above all, governments are strongly encouraged to put immunization high on all health agendas.

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