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Progress made but time to find the final fifth

This week is World Immunisation Week when all countries are encouraged to take steps to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination and reach more children with this essential health intervention.

It’s an opportunity to celebrate progress made towards the objective of achieving universal access to immunisation, and highlighting the challenges we face in reaching our goal.

There’s no doubt that vaccination is an important intervention that all children should have access to. It is cost-effective, it works, and every child has to right to it as a part of their right to health.

Constant progress

Immunisation is an exciting and dynamic agenda. Progress is constantly being made in extending more vaccines to more children. This Thursday Ghana will introduce both pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, which help to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea – the two biggest killers of children.

At the same time, GAVI is helping to drive vaccine prices down, so that every pound invested in immunisation can go even further, averting even more unnecessary child deaths. Last week they announced a reduction in rotavirus vaccine from $15 to $5 for a 2-dose course.

The final fifth

But in 2010, a fifth of children worldwide remained without DTP3 – an essential vaccine often used as a proxy for routine immunisation.

These children are often the most poor and the most likely to get sick. They are the children most in need of health care yet least like to have access to it.

They are the children for whom easily preventable and treatable diseases become deadly. We will be releasing a report that seeks to find where these children are and why they aren’t being reached, in time for the World Health Assembly next month.

Reaching the hardest to reach

You may have seen the kinds of challenges that often prevent these children from being immunised on TV on Sunday night, as Ewan McGregor travelled across tough terrain to immunise children in some of the remotest parts of India and Nepal.

This shows us how health systems must be strengthened so that every child – regardless of where they live – can access the health care they need, including vaccinations. Without a trained, supported, equipped and paid health worker at hand, no child will be immunised.

On Monday, we co-organised an all-party parliamentary event in London on immunisation and equity, to stimulate discussion on the issue and raise awareness of the final fifth of children who still fail to be reached by routine vaccines.

Political commitment needed

Political will to address inequalities in immunisation coverage is essential. This must be translated into tailored strategies that are fully funded and implemented.

For countries to achieve this, they will require sustained access to affordable vaccines, which means the price of vaccines must drop further.

At the WHA, countries have the opportunity to assert equity as the priority agenda in immunisation for the coming decade.

If a resolution on the Global Vaccines Action Plan is passed with strong language and targets on reaching the hard-to-reach, we will be better placed to hold governments accountable for ensuring that every child enjoys full benefits of immunisation.

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