Immunization can save a million and a half more lives in WHO’s Western Pacific Region

Media release

Motorbike is the usual mode of transport for most of the health workers in Lao PDR to bring the vaccine carrier and other injection supplies to far-flung villages under their catchment areas.
WHO/Y. Shimizu

Despite the proven effectiveness of vaccines and the tens of millions of lives they have saved, an estimated 400 000 people die needlessly every year in the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Western Pacific Region from diseases that vaccines could prevent.

Vaccines save up to 3 million lives each year worldwide from infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, measles and polio. Still, nearly 2.3 million children in the Region each year are not fully immunized against these threats.

''These figures are alarming,” notes Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. ''Increased immunization coverage and ensuring that all children are fully immunized by 2020 could save an additional million and a half lives globally."

This year during World Immunization Week from 24 to 30 April, WHO is calling on parents, health-care workers, policy-makers and the media, and ultimately everyone, to work together to ensure that every child in every country gets the vaccines they need, and no child gets left behind.

Successes and challenges

Recent progress is encouraging, with expanded immunization coverage throughout the Region. Success stories include:

  • Twenty countries have achieved coverage of above 95% for three doses of the diphtheria–tetanus–pertussis (DTP) vaccines
  • Seven countries and areas have been verified for measles elimination
  • Immunization coverage has increased in Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) with the latter successfully interrupting circulation of polio through supplementary immunization.
  • The Western Pacific Region as a whole has reached the goal of reducing chronic hepatitis B infection to less than 1% among 5-year-old children by 2017. Thirteen countries and areas were verified as having met this goal.
  • All countries in the Region have introduced rubella vaccine to prevent congenital rubella syndrome, a life-threatening condition that causes disability.

But challenges remain. Access to vaccines is still limited for informal settlers or people living in remote locations. People displaced by natural or man-made disasters and nomadic populations are also underserved. Uneven immunization coverage across countries and at subnational levels also continues to be an issue, leaving some groups unvaccinated.

"Insufficient data sometimes makes it difficult to identify gaps in coverage, and limited funding for immunization programmes also restricts our ability to address these obstacles," notes Dr Shin.

Working together to increase immunization coverage

Health-care workers are the key to immunizing children, especially in remote locations.

Take the example of Ms Siphan Luanglath and Ms Vanpheng Phorlasing, two health-care workers from Xieng Khuang Province in the Lao People's Democratic Republic. They sometimes travel several hours to hold immunization activities in remote villages. After long journeys down dirt roads on motorcycle and on foot carrying hefty vaccination boxes, they reach sparsely populated communities and vaccinate the small number of children there. But they are not deterred. They know that vaccinating these children is vital to protect them and to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in these communities.

This year, WHO calls on everyone to do their part in closing immunization gaps.

Parents must ensure that their children receive required vaccines on time.

Community organizations can inform the public about the benefits of vaccines and provide accurate information on when and where to get vaccinated.

The media can provide information from credible, evidence-based sources to the public.

And of course, immunization is a core component of universal health coverage, which requires strengthened health systems to expand the reach of all preventive services.

“No child should die from a preventable disease,” says Dr Shin. “All of us have a role to play in ensuring every child in every country is fully immunized.”

For further information, please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@who.int

Ms Teena Deogracias-Nery
Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 9991
Email: neryma@who.int

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