World losing the war on virulent, preventable childhood diseases

Vaccines have saved the lives of millions of children around the world, and have the potential to save millions more in the future as newer vaccines are developed and introduced.

Vaccines have resulted in global eradication of smallpox, we are on the brink of attaining global eradication of polio, and measles deaths have decreased by 78 per cent since 2000.

Newly developed vaccines will prevent hundreds of thousands of child deaths each year from rotavirus diarrhoea and pneumococcal pneumonia when countries can gain access to these vaccines.

Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective investments in child health. Yet in 2009 in low-income countries, two out of five deaths in children under five were due to pneumonia or diarrhoea.

Polio eradication is not yet assured, and we are at great risk of losing the dramatic progress made against measles as donor funding has dropped precipitously despite rapid movement toward elimination.

The reduction in measles deaths alone accounts for nearly 25 per cent of the overall reduction in child deaths since 1990.

Achieving Millennium Development Goal 4 — to reduce under-five child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 — will not be possible without additional support for immunisation. It would be a crime if this goal were missed simply for lack of adequate financial support.

Society has long recognised the value of vaccines. Since 1974, the World Health Organisation has co-ordinated a global Expanded Programme on Immunisation.

However, vaccines don’t give themselves. It takes organised structures and trained personnel to deliver vaccines safely to those who need them. In 2008, more than 22 million infants were missed by routine immunisation services and remain unprotected.

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