SP Vaccine Lab/WHO
Last year, the WHO marked the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, calling it a testimony to what we can achieve when all nations work together. This milestone laid the foundation for stronger national immunization programmes worldwide, supporting the development of primary health care in many countries and creating momentum toward Universal Health Coverage.
By 1990, through national immunization programmes, 80 per cent of the world’s children were vaccinated against six major diseases – tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles and polio.
Moreover, the percentage of children receiving the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine is considered an indicator of strengthened national routine immunization services, says UNICEF. By 2018, the vaccination coverage rate for DTP reached nearly 90 per cent from 72 per cent in 2000 and 20 percent in 1980.
Polio Vaccination in Iraq. United Nations photo: Sebastian Meyer/ WHO Iraq
Polio still exists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria but its cases have decreased by more than 99 per cent since 1988, from over 350,000 to 33 reported cases in 2018, as a result of the global effort to eradicate the disease, says WHO.
The push to immunize the world’s children against polio, under the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), spearheaded by WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), GAVI and a group of international financial partners, was launched in 1988 with the support of 165 countries.
Due to the equitable access to polio vaccination, more than 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated since the launch of the partnership, with help from some 20 million volunteers. Called one of the most ambitious global health programmes, the scale-up of the eradication effort – the core tenet of the partnership – is said to have prevented the paralysis of 18 million people and 900,000 deaths.
Before the launch of the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), a global partnership led by the American Red Cross, the UN Foundation, CDC, UNICEF and WHO, in 2001, more than 562,000 children died worldwide from measles complications each year.
In 2018, M&RI continued to support 37 countries, implementing measles campaigns that reached more than 350 million children with bundled vaccines, operational costs or technical assistance.
Unfortunately, despite having a safe and effective vaccine for over 50 years, measles cases have surged over recent years, claiming the lives of more than 140,000 children in 2018 – all of which were preventable, warns the initiative. Top ten high-income countries, where children were not vaccinated with the first measles vaccine dose (2010 to 2018), include the United States (2,868,000), France (680,000) and the United Kingdom (585,000).
On top of this already precarious situation, preventive and responsive measles vaccination campaigns have now been paused or postponed in 24 countries due to COVID-19.
Image: In 2014, M&RI partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics, and author and illustrator Sophie Blackhall to launch the “Ivy + Bean versus The Measles” campaign featuring characters from the children’s book series.