MANILA, 24 October 2013 – Countries in the Western Pacific must continue to strive to keep the Region free of polio, eliminate measles and control hepatitis B. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these are necessary steps towards universal immunization coverage.
“Member States and the Region as a whole have achieved truly impressive milestones through immunization,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Still, we must continue with our efforts to achieve comprehensive immunization coverage through initiatives such as the Global Vaccine Action Plan.”
Dr Shin spoke at the sixty-fourth session of Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, which is being held from 21 to 25 October at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila.
Participants discussed the regional implementation of the WHO Global Vaccine Action Plan and progress towards the goals of the Decade of Vaccines: to protect millions of lives through comprehensive immunization programmes and strategies during the decade 2011-2020.
The Global Vaccine Action Plan aims to:
- eliminate polio globally;
- meet global and regional disease elimination targets;
- meet vaccination coverage targets in every region, country and community;
- introduce new and improved vaccines and technology; and
- surpass the Millennium Development Goal 4 target for child mortality reduction (to reduce child mortality by two thirds).
The action plan is the basis for achieving full immunization coverage of all individuals and communities in Member States.[pq]The (Global Vaccine Action) plan could save 24.6 million to 25.8 million lives globally in the decade 2011−2020.[/pq]
Discussions focused on keeping the Western Pacific Region free of polio. “There remains the risk that the virus might be reintroduced from the outside,” said Dr Shin. To combat this danger, WHO encourages Member States to improve surveillance and to introduce new vaccines, such as the single dose of inactivated polio vaccine. “These measures will support our efforts to launch a polio endgame strategy—intended to free the world from the threat of polio by 2018,” explained Dr Shin.
Other challenges for the Region are the elimination of measles and stronger hepatitis B control. “We have made outstanding progress in hepatitis B control through vaccination,” continued Dr Shin. Having achieved their target of reducing chronic hepatitis B infection rates in children to less than 2% by 2012, Member States and WHO are now discussing a new goal—to reduce the infection rate among children to less than 1% through comprehensive vaccination coverage.
Cooperation among WHO, Member States and partners has reduced the number of measles cases in the Region to an historic low—a reduction of 93% in cases between 2008 and 2012. WHO wants Member States to close any remaining measles immunity gaps through high immunization coverage and strengthened surveillance.
There has also been progress in the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus. China validated elimination in October 2012, leaving only four countries still to confirm elimination in the Region.
“Through joint efforts such as the Global Vaccine Action Plan, we can continue to strive for universal immunization coverage and ensure that every individual and community is protected from diseases such as polio, hepatitis B and tetanus,” concluded Dr Shin.