In the past three decades, we have made remarkable progress in reaching more people with immunization and reducing illnesses and deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Despite that, in 2010, an estimated 1.5 million infants in the Eastern Mediterranean Region did not receive their third dose of DTP by their first birthday.
The Region also faces challenges in reaching its targets of interrupting polio transmission, as well as eliminating measles and maternal and neonatal tetanus.
Additionally, vaccine-preventable diseases contribute to an estimated 20% of under-five deaths. The majority of these deaths are due to pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhoea, some of which can be prevented through newly available vaccines.
Undoubtedly, introducing these vaccines into national immunization programmes and reaching the unimmunized will require innovative solutions in which advocacy, education and communication are central.
Accordingly, WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean and partners are launching the third Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean during the week of 24 to 30 April 2012.
This year, we will highlight the importance of achieving equity by reaching every community with vaccination, which is essential if the global targets of disease prevention and mortality reduction are to be met.
With one voice and through our collective efforts, we can ensure that all people, young and old, heed the message that “vaccination is the obvious choice.”
Following the remarkable success of the first vaccination week in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2010, in which an unprecedented 100 per cent of countries in the Region participated, I am pleased to announce that WHO and partners are launching the second Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean during the week of 24 to 30 April 2011. In 2011, in addition to the WHO regions of the Americas, Europe and Eastern Mediterranean, two other WHO regions, African and Western Pacific, will celebrate this event for the first time.
Through innovative and combined advocacy, education and communication activities, the Vaccination Week initiative intends to raise awareness, increase vaccine utilization, mobilize resources and secure strong political support for immunization programmes.
Despite the recent progress of the Expanded Programme in Immunization in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, an estimated 1 .3 million children aged under 5 years died in 2008 in the Region. And, one out of five deaths is primarily due to pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases, which can, in part, be prevented by the newly available potent and safe pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines.
However, the introduction of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines is slow, mainly because there is a lack of awareness regarding the level of disease burden and the cost-effectiveness of these vaccines. In addition, in 2009, around 2 million children did not complete the basic vaccination schedule for their first year of life.
The Region continues to face persistent challenges to reaching set targets, such as the eradication of polio and elimination of measles and maternal and neonatal tetanus. Undoubtedly, difficult and emergency situations, varying technical and managerial capacity at the national level, competing priorities and lack of ownership, and insufficient government financial commitment have hindered our progress towards national and regional targets.
One point is clear though. No one, no one person, no one agency, sector or even governments can overcome the daunting challenges and achieve the ambitious goals alone. It was, therefore, agreed that the Region and countries adopt the theme of “partnership for immunization” for the 2011 Vaccination Week initiative.
In line with our regional vision that "No child should die from a vaccine-preventable disease", the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy and the recently announced Decade of Vaccines, I hope that we can join hands and work together to reach the most vulnerable, finish the unfinished agenda, and sustain the success stories in our diverse and complex Region.
I am convinced that we can leverage this event to further expand and formalize partnerships, explore possibilities for innovative financing, work across national borders, engage and collaborate with communities, media and the private sector, and maintain immunization high on the agenda of policy and decision-makers.
As with to the first Vaccination Week, the 2011 event should inspire innovative national events with regional relevance.
Moving forward I anticipate similar country commitment and leadership with the involvement of key partners such as UNICEF, nongovernmental organizations, communication, media and the private sector.
Only through our collective efforts can we ensure that all people, young and old, are protected against vaccination-preventable diseases. Let us partner for immunization and remember that vaccination is the obvious choice.
It is with great pleasure that I address you today at this momentous event, the launch ceremony for the first Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Her Excellency the First Lady of Lebanon, Mrs Wafaa Michel Sleiman, who has kindly agreed to be the patron of this major event. As a respected public figure advocating for the well-being of people in our Region, Her Excellency will bring much deserved attention to the importance of immunization as a major life-saver.
A year ago, I stood with Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, together with the WHO Regional Directors for the Americas and Europe and pledged our Region's support for the Vaccination Week initiative. Today I am proud to announce that 22 countries of the Region are participating in this historic initiative, signalling to the world that immunization is a regional and national priority. Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean also coincides with similar endeavours established in two other regions––Vaccination Week in the Americas and European Immunization Week. This unprecedented collaboration among the three regions, with well over 100 countries participating in simultaneous vaccination weeks will provide further momentum towards a global vaccination week.
In our region, the goals and objectives of Vaccination Week are to enhance communication and dissemination of information on the importance of immunization, and to use a combination of innovative approaches to increase community demand and improve access to immunization, particularly for the vulnerable populations in the Region.
During Vaccination Week, a variety of activities are being carried out by participating countries, including workshops, training sessions, social mobilization, round table discussions, exhibitions and media events, addressing a wide range of vaccine-related issues. In addition, vaccination services such as tracking of unvaccinated people, implementing large-scale vaccination campaigns and using Child Health Days to deliver an integrated package of life-saving health interventions will also take place.
Immunization ensures good health. We know that great progress has been made in this region to reduce illness and death due to vaccine-preventable diseases. More people than ever before are being reached with immunization; 20 countries have maintained their polio-free status; the 90% measles mortality reduction goal has been achieved three years ahead of schedule and an increasing number of countries are introducing new and under-used vaccines. Moreover, the benefits of immunization are increasingly being extended to adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis and cancers that occur in adulthood.
However, more needs to be done if we are to reach Millennium Development Goal No. 4 aimed at reducing child mortality. An estimated 2.1 million people in our Region were unvaccinated in 2008. Reaching these vulnerable populations – typically living in poorly served remote areas, deprived urban settings and in war-torn states – is one of our biggest challenges.
Furthermore, about 1.3 million infants and young children worldwide die every year from penumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhoea, mostly in developing countries. A large number of these deaths can be prevented through vaccination with newly available vaccines. However, introducing new vaccines into national immunization programmes will require additional financial commitment from developing countries, particularly the low-income and lower middle-income countries, and from donors to meet the increased cost of these vaccines. As such, innovative mechanisms to mobilize resources are urgently needed to assist countries.
The consequences of failing to immunize people at risk cannot be overstated: the re-emergence of diseases that were formerly under control, the spread of diseases to countries where they had been eliminated, and the continuing toll on millions of people in terms of illness, disability and death.
Let us use Vaccination Week as an opportunity to revive political commitment to, and increase public awareness of, the importance of immunization. It is my firm belief that our continued collaboration will make this initiative a success. Remember, vaccination is a family and community responsibility.
Despite remarkable successes and progress in immunization, about 1.3 million infants and young children worldwide die every year from pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhoea. Moreover, in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, an estimated 2 million people were unvaccinated in 2009.
Recent studies have demonstrated that the structural determinants and conditions of daily life responsible for unvaccinated children are primarily related to: 1) parental attitudes and knowledge, such as perceived benefits and threats, and 2) group pressures for or against vaccination; and family characteristics, such as education level, family size, income and occupation. Other contributing factors include communication, information and immunization system, such as health worker knowledge.
Accordingly, in response to both the remarkable opportunities and daunting challenges, the WHO Regional Office is leading a new initiative, Vaccination Week in the Eastern Mediterranean Region during the week of 24–30 April 2010.
This initiative is coinciding with similar endeavours in the WHO Regions of Americas and Europe. The goals and objectives of the initiative are in line with those set out in the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy 2006–2015, developed jointly with UNICEF, which calls for countries to improve communication and dissemination of information; increase community demand for immunization; and use a combination of innovative approaches and solutions to protect all people at risk against vaccine-preventable diseases.
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