World Immunization Week took place last month from April 24th to April 28th, and aimed to raise awareness about the significance of vaccines and to vaccinate people from across the globe against preventable diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunization currently prevents 2-3 million deaths per year and is cost-effective at the same time. But this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) used the campaign to show that there is still work to be done when it comes to vaccinating children around the globe.
The WHO estimated that in the year 2016, about 20 million children did not receive the DTP vaccine for the preventable diseases diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Consequently, the WHO noted that an additional 1.5 million lives could be saved if vaccination rates increased. However, vaccination rates for the DTP vaccine have remained stagnant, reaching 86% of infants worldwide.
With thousands of diseases affecting many areas, the WHO provides a list of vaccines to deal with diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, polio, measles, and rubella to name a few. Certain vaccines are assigned to specific regions where the corresponding disease is prevalent.
Unsurprisingly, the nations which are feeling the brunt of this lack of coverage have been in the third world. Nearly 60% of children who are missing out on vaccines for the diseases mentioned above are located in just 10 countries, all of which are in the Global South. This can be linked to the fact that 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty, with more than 3 billion people living on less than $2.50 a day.
This issue of vaccine coverage even extends into Europe. 21,000 Europeans contracted measles in 2017, which was 4 times more than in 2016. The WHO attributes this to the decline in the amount of people vaccinated and a lack of disease surveillance.
Back in 2011, WHO set out goals in the Global Vaccine Action Plan of 2011 that sought to eliminate some diseases affecting children. Their efforts however, fell short. The Americas were one of the four regions that WHO had hoped would eliminate measles in by 2016. Similarly, 18 out of 40 countries that WHO thought would get rid of maternal and neonatal tetanus were unable to meet this expectation. This clearly shows that despite the work WHO has done, it has its limits.
The future generations of the world are certainly facing a difficult situation. As millions of children do not have access to highly important vaccines for preventable diseases, they risk contracting a multitude of diseases. With a large amount of these children residing in the third world, it should remind us of how fortunate we are to be living in a country with an abundance of vaccines and health services. On the other hand, we should be more aware of the health concerns regarding vaccines of children and youth in other parts of the world, for they will help shape the future of the world in the coming years.