World health body wants vaccination drive to avert 1.5 million child deaths yearly

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One fifth of the world's children still do not receive routine vaccinations that could prevent 1.5 million deaths a year from preventable diseases, the World Health Organisation has said. Many nations, including the United States, have had serious measles outbreaks in the past year, threatening to undermine efforts to eliminate the viral disease by the end of 2015, one of the WHO's global vaccination targets. "It is critical that the global community now makes a collective and cohesive effort to put progress towards our six targets back on track," Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director-general for family, women's and children's health, said in a statement ahead of the agency's World Immunization Week. The WHO said five of the six vaccination targets set for end-2015 had not yet been met - 90 percent immunization coverage for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, the eradication of polio, and the elimination of measles, rubella, and tetanus among newborns and pregnant mothers worldwide. The only target that has been met is getting poor and middle income countries to use one or more under-used vaccines, such as those against cholera, the agency said. Half of all children do not receive the rubella vaccine and 16 percent of all children are not being vaccinated against measles, according to the WHO. Polio remains endemic in three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In 2012, nearly 22 million children, many of them in the world's poorest countries, did not receive the required three doses of vaccines containing diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, known as DTP3, the WHO said. The drive to increase global vaccination levels began in the mid-1970s and vaccination levels rose from five percent to more than 80 percent by 2013, particularly in Latin American countries. But progress has stalled in recent years, WHO said. More needs to be done to integrate vaccination programs with other health services, particularly during postnatal care for mothers and babies, WHO says. The organization is due to hold a meeting in May of 34 countries where coverage with three doses of DTP3 is less than 80 percent with a view to boosting their use of the vaccine. (Reporting By Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Tim Pearce)