WHO calls for efforts to reach unvaccinated children

WHO calls for efforts to reach unvaccinated children

Lauding countries such as India for saving lives through their immunisation programmes, the WHO on Tuesday asked nations falling under its South-East Asia Region to accelerate efforts to reach nearly five million unvaccinated children.

The WHO South-East Asia Region records about 37 million births annually, of them over 88 percent children are now getting three doses of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) vaccines per annum, an indicator of basic vaccination coverage, the global health body said.

"It is critical to identify who are missing vaccination and reach them with lifesaving vaccines.

"Equity and improving vaccination coverage is the key to preventing a resurgence of diseases, especially the ones eradicated with painstaking efforts, and for further reducing diseases and deaths among children," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia, while inaugurating a three-day meeting of Immunization Technical Advisory Group.

Besides India, the region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, South Korea, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

She said mapping hard-to-reach areas and population, addressing social and cultural and other barriers for them to access immunisation services, and closely monitoring these activities for progress, should be among our immediate priorities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said many countries are making impressive efforts.

It named India’s Mission Indradhanush focusing on 190 districts, Indonesia's intensified drive in 80 districts, Myanmar's urban immunisation intensification targeting 29 townships, Nepal's efforts to achieve full-immunisation at sub-district level and Timor Leste's community outreach and twinning programme with Sri Lanka for capacity building of vaccination programme officials.

The health body said that in Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar, nine massive vaccination campaigns delivered more than 4.5 million doses of lifesaving vaccines to the Rohingya refugees.

These efforts successfully averted outbreaks of deadly diseases such as cholera and measles and helped rapidly curtail diphtheria outbreak among this vulnerable population, it said.

"Growing political commitment, stronger partnerships, and relentless efforts of thousands of health workers and vaccinators, are collectively helping save millions of lives in the Region," Singh said.

Member states have added several new vaccines to their immunisation schedules such as for protection against pneumonia, diarrhoea, Japanese Encephalitis and cervical cancer, it said, adding that Hepatitis B control is getting an impetus with vaccination.

The region continues to be polio-free and maintains its maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination status, it said.

Two countries – Bhutan and the Maldives – have eliminated measles, a flagship priority programme of WHO South-East Asia Region, while all countries have introduced two doses of measles and rubella vaccines in their immunisation schedule, it said.

Measles and rubella vaccination campaigns are planned to reach nearly 400 million children and adolescents in 2018-2019, the WHO said in a statement.

Singh said these intensified efforts need to be enhanced and sustained as the region seeks to be free of vaccine-preventable diseases, where all countries provide equitable access to high-quality, safe, efficacious, affordable vaccines and immunisation services throughout the life-course.

The Immunization Technical Advisory Group meeting, convened by the WHO, is being attended by international experts, representatives of national immunisation technical advisory bodies and immunisation programme managers of Member States of WHO South-East Asia Region, as well as partners and donors, such as the UNICEF, US Centres for Disease Control and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.

The advisory group will review the ongoing efforts and challenges to reduce the burden of various vaccine-preventable diseases, and explore ways of strengthening routine immunisation and achieving measles elimination and rubella control in member states of the region, the statement added.

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