In spite of its undisputed success of immunization efforts, more than 3 million deaths still occur each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Increasing and sustained immunization efforts have allowed to eradicate small-pox and to lower the global incidence of polio so far by 99%. Diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles and Hib were also dramatically reduced preventing illness, disability and death over the years. But immunization is still an ongoing challenge.
Globally, immunization coverage has increased only marginally since the early 1990s, stabilizing at an average coverage rate of 80%. But the differences from one country to another remain very important. In 2003, it was estimated that 28 million children (27% of all birth) were born in 32 countries where immunization coverage is less than 70% and other 10 million live in countries with coverage under 50%.
History clearly shows that a decrease in immunization coverage sets the stage of the reappearance of disease in previously protected populations. Large outbreaks of disease have occurred in recent years: a diphtheria epidemic in the Commonwealth of Independent States in the 1990s, which peaked at over 50,000 cases in 1995. This clearly illustrates that continued vigilance and maximizing vaccine coverage are crucial to control and eradicate some infectious diseases in the future.
To protect and improve human health worldwide Sanofi Pasteur makes a major contribution to meeting global goals outlined in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI Alliance) milestones for selective immunization goals. These include by 2010 or sooner, all countries will have routine immunization coverage at 90% nationally with at least 80% coverage in every district.
With stable and high vaccination coverage, disease declines and can even be eliminated. For example, reported measles cases in the European Region fell from 200,000 in 1994 to 30,000 in 2003. In addition, WHO declared the European Region polio free in 2002.
The next challenge for WHO is to eliminate measles and rubella by 2010. Between 1999–2005, the Measles Initiative led by UNICEF and WHO has resulted in vaccinating more than 217 million children between 2001 and 2005 – mostly in Africa. Measles deaths fell by 60 per cent. Africa contributed 72 per cent of the absolute reduction in deaths. Estimates concluded that immunization helped avert almost 7.5 million deaths from the disease.
For more information, please the World Health Organization web site.