NEW YORK, 29 September 2005- New country-by-country data reveal inadequate progress on protecting children and women from vaccine-preventable diseases, despite the availability of low cost vaccines, according to a UNICEF study released today.
Each year since 1990, immunization with routine vaccines has reached more than 70 per cent of children world-wide. At the UN General Assembly Special Session in 2002 the international community adopted the specific target of immunizing by 2010 at least 90 percent of children under one year of age in each country.
This edition of Progress for Children shows that 103 countries are already protecting 90 per cent of their children against vaccine-preventable diseases and another 16 are making steady progress. However in 74 countries programmes have not kept up, or progress is too slow. Globally 130 million children are born each year adding to the ranks of children who require immunization.
“Immunization is currently preventing an estimated two million deaths among children under five every year,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman, launching Progress for Children in New York. “Immunization is one of the safest and most cost-effective interventions we know. We need to protect the gains we have made in many countries and expand our efforts in others.”
Some 10.6 million children under five die every year. Around two-thirds of these deaths are preventable, including an estimated 1.4 million deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases. The major killers are measles, haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), whooping cough (pertussis) and neonatal tetanus. These diseases are all preventable with vaccines that are currently available.
In the near future, an additional 1.1 million deaths could be prevented with vaccines against pneumococcus and rotavirus, which are important causes of severe pneumonia and diarrhea in developing countries. In total, immunization programmes could reduce deaths among children under five by almost one-quarter, if coverage of more than 90 per cent can be attained for routine immunization.
“By improving immunization coverage, bringing on new vaccines when they become available and linking immunization with other interventions, such as distribution of malaria bed-nets, we can contribute dramatically to the key Millennium Development Goal of improving child survival,” added Veneman.
Coverage of routine immunization and specifically measles immunization is a core indicator for tracking progress of Millennium Development Goal 4-the reduction of under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015 from 1990 baseline figures. Progress for Children uses routine coverage with measles vaccine as a proxy for measuring protection against the basic six childhood vaccine-preventable diseases; measles, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, tuberculosis and polio. Progress for Children then ranks countries on their average annual rate of increase in coverage since 1990.
The regional analysis in the report demonstrates some harsh inequities for children. In 2003, the last year for which we have comprehensive data, 90 per cent of children in industrialized countries were protected by immunization. Death due to vaccine-preventable diseases in these countries is now rare. The majority of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Middle East and North Africa have also made progress. However, the majority of countries in West and Central Africa, where only 52 per cent of children are routinely vaccinated, still need to rapidly improve their immunization programmes.
But the news is not all bad. Coverage rates in some resource-poor countries have improved dramatically. Eritrea has expanded routine immunization coverage from 18 per cent in 1990 to 84 per cent in 2003, Niger from 25 per cent to 64 per cent and Uganda from 52 per cent to 82 per cent.
In addition, measles-related mortality, according to a recent article published in the Lancet, has dropped by almost half over the last five years, thanks to the success of mass measles immunization campaigns. Within five years, measles could be the first in the list of key vaccine-preventable diseases that become rare in developing countries.