WHO starts simultaneous immunization campaigns in over 100 countries

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Child receiving an oral polio vaccine (file photo)

The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday began simultaneous immunization campaigns, in 112 countries and territories across its Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, and European regions. The unprecedented vaccination drive will last for a week.

This is the first time the World Health Organization has launched such an event across multiple regions at once. WHO officials say their goal is to expand immunization coverage and raise awareness of the importance of vaccines, and that such cross-border activities can prevent disease and save lives.

WHO spokesman Daniel Epstein says that many countries are working to eliminate measles, adding that says countries in the European region are very concerned that they have stalled in their goal of eliminating measles and rubella this year.

"In European countries, in many of them, immunization coverage is below the 95 percent recommended level. And, there have been ongoing measles outbreaks in some of these countries. Measles cases have also been imported to the US and Canada and the Americas from European countries," said Epstein.

The agency says an important goal of the immunization campaigns is to reach those who have been excluded up to now. It notes that every year, in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 25 percent of deaths among children under age five are attributed to vaccine preventable diseases. 2.1 million children in the Middle East hadn't received a shot against tetanus, whooping cough, or diphteria in 2009, according to the WHO.

In the Americas, WHO says special regional events are being held in border areas of Nicaragua, between Suriname and French Guiana, and between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It says many young children, pregnant women, elderly and indigenous peoples live in isolated areas where vaccine coverage is low.

In all three regions, Epstein said the vaccination campaigns will be accompanied by health information campaigns.

"The biggest obstacle to reaching our goals of vaccination are lack of awareness, lack of information and people being ignorant that they should be vaccinated, and thus not having enough vaccinators, money, trucks, bicycles, etc. to get to these remote regions," he said.

WHO also began a large polio immunization campaign across sixteen countries in central and West Africa on Saturday. It says 78 million children under five will be vaccinated to stop a major outbreak of the disease.


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