At the 64th World Health Assembly (WHA), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) took part in a joint event with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calling for a more balanced approach to global immunization.
The WHA, which took place in Geneva in May, is the decision making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) and is attended by the organization's 193 member states. As such it offers a unique opportunity to reach a wide community of delegates who have the potential to make an impact on this major issue.
While significant attention is focused on the introduction of new vaccines in low-income countries, recent and persistent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases also illustrate the need for strengthening routine immunisation and improving outbreak response capabilities and elimination initiatives.
Dr Stefan Seebacher, IFRC’s head of health department, said the objective was to investigate how the world community can balance the many global vaccine priorities so that we can maximize the power of vaccines. "This is a crucial issue that we need to address as a global health community, and most importantly by listening to countries and their experiences," he said.
Immunization is estimated to save between two and three million lives each year, and vaccines are considered one of public health's 'best buys'.
Yet, too many children are still dying of vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, meningitis or yellow fever. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, we have witnessed measles outbreaks in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad, claiming the lives of over 300 children. Never has the world been closer to eradicating polio, but the final one per cent can lethal, as the recent outbreak in the Republic of Congo confirms.
Just two diseases – pneumonia and diarrhoea – account for 36 per cent of all under-five deaths worldwide. The introduction of new vaccines against these two deadly diseases could save more than one million children’s lives each year, but a 3.7 billion US dollars gap in funding threatens these and other immunization programmes.
Over 70 participants attended the event, and had a rich discussion for over an hour following the speakers presentations.
Below is a selection of documents relating to the event, and you can also find additional information on the IFRC's statements and interventions here.