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European Immunization Week 2011 kicks off throughout the region

BRUSSELS, 26 April 2011 - At least 42,000 measles cases were reported in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia spreading across borders in the past 15 months underlining the need to share solutions for reaching immunization goals, UNICEF said at the start of this year`s European Immunization Week.

From 23 to 30 April 2011, all 21 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States will take part in the sixth annual awareness campaign.

Established by the WHO Regional Office for Europe in 2005, governments across the region will roll out initiatives to increase immunization coverage. HRH Crown Princess Mathilde of Belgium launched the event together with the Regional Director of WHO, the Commissioner of Health and Consumer Policy of European Commission and the Director of European CDC.

While there are numerous causes for immunization coverage falling below targets, UNICEF has identified a key concern: public trust in immunization is decreasing. Some of the lowest immunization rates are found in EU countries, where 97 percent of measles cases in the region were reported recently.

“UNICEF supports knowledge generation and sharing good practices and lessons learned among countries, as part of our efforts on strengthening the health systems to deliver equitable, accessible, sustainable and high quality immunization services,” said Steven Allen, UNICEF CEE/CIS Regional Director at the campaign launch in Brussels. “We are also leading an initiative to strengthen health communication capacities of countries to promote immunization, rebuild public trust and effectively manage crises,” he added.

The 2011 campaign focuses on “shared solutions to common threats”. It will target decision-makers, health professionals and parents with a range of activities, including workshops and training, round-table discussions and symposiums, and public information drives.

The re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio in the region are seen as evidence that routine immunisation services are no longer performing adequately.

An upsurge of measles, a leading cause of child death globally, were reported in Bulgaria with 22,200 cases - more than half of 42,000 cases reported to WHO - as well as in Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey. Ensuring marginalised groups such as Roma children have access to vaccinations is crucial as they remain susceptible to diseases.

The polio outbreak in Central Asia which was the largest in the world last year, also highlighted the consequences of the failing to immunize children routinely. In an era of increasing global migration and mobility, evidence shows that infectious diseases do not recognize borders - the Central Asian polio virus came from another region. Outbreaks occurring in one place have the potential to rapidly spread to others, revealing both the mutual interdependence and vulnerability of all countries, developing and industrialized alike. The Central Asian countries and the Russian Federation worked together to halt the spread of polio in 2010 and maintain the polio-free status of the region. A similar collaboration is needed to address the measles outbreaks mainly in the Western Europe.

For more information, please contact UNICEF CEE/CIS Regional Communication Chief John Budd +41 22 909 5829 or Communication Specialist Lely Djuhari +41 22 909 5843



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