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UNICEF report on immunisation calls for closer attention to save the lives of children through immunisation

© UNICEF/IDSA/022/Estey
Tens of thousands of Acehnese and North Sumatran children were saved from a feared measles outbreak when they were immunized with vaccines, within the first week following the tsunami disaster in December 2004.

Jakarta, 30 September 2005 - A UNICEF report released today reveals that over 27 million children below the age of one and 40 million pregnant women worldwide are still overlooked by routine immunization services. As a result, vaccine-preventable diseases are estimated to cause more than 2 million deaths every year. These include 1.4 million deaths of children under five.

Since the launch of Expanded Programme on Immunisation in 1974, immunization has prevented more than 20 million lives over the last two decades, and can save more lives for the money invested than almost any other intervention available today. It is a cost-effective health intervention that does not only save lives but also helps drive development by reducing the economic burden of death and illness on a family.

Although immunization saved the lives of two million children in 2003, the latest year for which data is available, another 1.4 million died because they were not vaccinated. Almost a quarter of the 130 million infants born every year are not immunized against basic childhood diseases.

Vaccines have saved the lives of millions of children over the last three decades, but there are still millions more who are unprotected by immunisation (“Progress for Children” Report no. 3, September 2005)

At current rates of progress, many countries will fall well short of achieving the goals for immunization set during the UN Special Session on Children in 2002. Falling the farthest behind is West and Central Africa which has not increased its average of 53 per cent immunization coverage for over a decade. Countries such as Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea are going backwards. Latin America and the Caribbean registers the most progress, surpassing even industrialized countries.

Immunization rates in Indonesia are only 72% on average. This means that in some areas the rates are very low. Around 2,400 children in Indonesia die every day, including some from preventable causes such as tuberculosis, measles, pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. “This is a shocking tragedy and does not have to happen. It reflects systemic problems at district level and below, and the need for the national level to be funded adequately to support and maintain close supervision of immunization programme in Indonesia. The recent polio outbreak is a health crisis with global implications, and is a good example of why some programs cannot be left to fail due to under-funding and lack of human resource capacity at implementation-level,” said Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Representative in Indonesia.

Surveys of suspected polio cases done by WHO show that in some areas immunity rates are lower than 56%, down from around 70% just three years ago. This is a reflection of declining health services in poor areas. Immunisation is a cost-effective way to prevent children from having disabling or fatal diseases. It also stimulates the development of health systems and represents a sound economic investment, contributing to better health and to poverty reduction.



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