In listening to a talk last week in Atlanta given by Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, the Executive Director, WHO Office at the United Nations in New York, I learned a fascinating statistic about vaccine effectiveness.
In 1980 before the mass roll-out of vaccines there was one child death per second from deadly, yet preventable diseases like pneumonia, rotavirus, and measles. By 2000 the death rate was one death per minute. By 2010 the death rate was one death every four minutes. That shows progress, but the number of child deaths is still too high. By 2015 the United Nations has called for a reduction of child deaths by 2/3. Recent data by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund shows that MDG #4 (Child health) likely will not be reached, but that does not mean progress should slow.
One of the highest priorities in the global health community is to vaccinate children. In fact, it is one of the best global health buys to keep children alive.
“Immunizations have the power to save lives and transform lives,” said Kumaresan. “We can give the opportunity for a child to be healthy and grow without diseases.”
According to Kumaresan in 2010 109 million children were vaccinated with the DPT vaccine that fights against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. 19.3 million children did not receive the vaccines and 70% of those children live in 10 developing countries.
The ultimate goal of global health agencies is to increase the vaccination rate to 90% worldwide in order eradicate these preventable diseases. In the developing world, however, there are challenges intrinsic to immunizing children. Many people live in informal settlements (slums) and in war-torn areas making vaccinations in this areas difficult.
Since 2010 the GAVI Alliance has supported the immunization of 3.6 million children with the pneumococcal vaccine. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children under the age of five. GAVI’s mission is to save children’s lives in poor countries through immunization.
The Measles & Rubella Initiative
Five key partners make up the Measles Rubella Initiative including the American Red Cross, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Foundation and World Health Organization. These partners have set a strategic plan to reduce measles and rubella to zero by 2020 in at least five WHO regions. According to WHO the plan will be implemented through:
- high vaccination coverage;
- monitoring spread of disease using laboratory-backed surveillance;
- outbreak preparedness and response and measles case management;
- communication and community engagement; and
- research and development.
The goal is within reach. In fact sub-Saharan Africa made saw a significant 85% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2010 due to vaccinations.
“It’s a moral imperative in today’s world,” said Kumeresan. “Every child should be reached. We need to make vaccines accessible and affordable to the people who need it.”