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WHO vaccination week underway

The World Health Organisation's annual immunisation week began on Saturday, with campaigns launched across 112 countries

The World Health Organisation's (WHO) annual immunisation week began on Saturday, with activities and events launched across 112 countries in three WHO territories. These will promote collaborative national and cross-border activities to help reduce and eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases

The campaign, which began in the Pan American region in 2003, aims to achieve the goals of "expanding immunisation coverage and raising awareness of the importance of vaccines". Europe had its first immunisation week in 2005, and 2010 sees the campaign launched in the Eastern Mediterranean region for the first time.

The three regional offices will provide technical support to national health authorities to help promote health awareness and achieve set national health goals. Regional and national partners, such as UNICEF, will also provide support.

Organisers behind the week in the Eastern Mediterranean said: "Every day, more than 5,500 infants are not fully immunised, amounting to an estimated 2.1 million children not receiving DTP3 vaccine in 2009."

The DTP3 vaccine is a third dose combination of immunisation for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). Three dose coverage of the DTP vaccine is generally used as a proxy for a fully immunised child, with the vaccine's coverage also an indicator of health system performance.

The Eastern Mediterranean organisers also said: "Moreover, 25 per cent of under-five deaths are attributed to vaccine-preventable diseases each year. A large number of child deaths due to pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhoea can be prevented through vaccination with newly available vaccines."

In Europe, the focus is on immunisation against measles and rubella, with member states adopting a regional goal of eliminating the diseases by 2010. However, organisers of the week in the region have said that 'momentum' on this goal has 'stalled' in recent years, with measles making a comeback as coverage in many western European countries fell below the recommended 95 per cent.

There are still hopes to achieve the elimination aims however, with the region saying: "The 2010 measles elimination goal is vital and attainable, but it will only be met if individual countries, and the region as a whole, make a focused and concerted effort to achieve it."

The Pan American region, which covers 44 countries, aims to reach an estimated 42 million children and adults with vaccines over the week. Priority is being placed on reaching groups, such as indigenous communities, that have limited access to health services and are at higher risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.

The week will include media and social communication campaigns to publicise the initiative and raise awareness of the importance of vaccination. Special events include the visit of Dr Mirta Roses, director of the Pan American Health Organisation, to St. Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana, on April 27 for a tri-national border launching event uniting French Guiana, Suriname and Brazil. French officials are helping to co-ordinate the event, making it the first bi-regional launch involving the Americas and Europe.

Dr Roses will also travel to the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti to launch events in Fond Parisien, Haiti, and Jimaní, the Dominican Republic, on May 1.

The WHO's actions on immunisation have seen great success over the years, including the worldwide elimination of smallpox 10 years after an eradication campaign was set up in 1967. The organisation's Expanded Programme on Immunisation, launched in 1974, has been credited with saving millions of lives through vaccination against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and yellow fever, with polio cases reduced by 99 per cent.

The WHO are now targeting measles for elimination, with vaccinations for the disease having saved more than 3.6 million lives worldwide between 2000 and 2007, and cut cases in Africa by 90 per cent according to the organisation.

Three more WHO regions - Africa, South-East Asia and Western Pacific – are looking at the possibility of participating in future immunisation weeks.

26th April 2010


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