Sustainability of success in immunization crucial for the Pacific
JAPAN, 13 May, 2009 – The successes achieved in the National Immunization Programmes in Pacific island countries need to be sustained for continued improvements in health in the region.
These thoughts were conveyed in the opening remarks of World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-Soo, presented by WHO Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Regional Advisor, Dr Yang Baoping at the 5th Pacific Immunization Programme Strengthening Workshop on Monday.
He said that while EPI had helped member states achieve a polio free status, interrupt endemic measles virus transmission and substantially reduced chronic hepatitis B infection rates among children, sustaining and building on the successes required even greater effort.
Other success stories in the region include the drastic reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria and tetanus. The Pacific island countries have also been proactive in assessing the need for and introducing new or underutilized vaccines.
“Continued efforts are needed to make immunization services more effective, safe and efficient if we are to maintain the confidence that communities and policy makers have in immunization services. Primary health care services need to be better integrated at the grassroots level, taking advantage of synergies across different primary health care programmes.”
According to Dr Young-Soo, experiences from the Pacific showed how failure to sustain high routine immunization coverage had resulted in pertussis (whooping cough) outbreaks in some islands in recent years and that follow-up supplementary immunization activities for measles needed to be implemented in several countries between now and 2010.
“Partners and member states need to work together to address weaknesses and to increase the public health impact of immunization services. This workshop provides an appropriate framework to discuss these issues and coordinate the efforts of all partners.”
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Pacific Representative Dr Isiye Ndombi said while good progress had been made in immunization in the region, for health care to be more effective, it needed to be comprehensive, accessible and affordable drawing comparison from a Gambian study in the early 1990s where mortality remained high despite high levels of immunization coverage.
“Children saved from measles soon died of diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria and other illnesses. The lesson here was that the immunization programme on its own could not save children.”
“My encouragement is for you to focus on having strong immunization programmes that reach all children and communities with comprehensive health care.”
Director General of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Human Development Department, Mr Hidetaka Nishiwaki said cooperation between partners was necessary if they were to meet their immunization goals.
“JICA started the J-PIPS (Japanese support to PIPS) project in 2005 with the ambitious goal that each and every child in the target area in the Pacific Region will be given access to immunization. This goal will never be attained by JICA alone. It is essential to work together with the PIPS partners who endeavor to promote the immunization programme.”
The PIPS Workshop, which runs from 11 - 15 May, is jointly organized by WHO and UNICEF and is held at the Nagasaki University in Japan. It features representatives from 20 Pacific island nations’ ministries of health and regional, global and international health experts.
The workshop also has representatives from donor agencies, which include the Australian Agency for International Development, JICA, New Zealand Agency for International Development, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rotary International District 2650.
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