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Despite substantial progress, lapses threaten regional immunization goals

Putrajaya, Malaysia, 14 October 2010—The World Health Organization (WHO) today warned that despite substantial progress in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases in the Western Pacific Region, goals to eliminate measles and reduce hepatitis B infections by 2012, and maintain polio-free status, are at risk due to immunization and surveillance gaps.

Some Member States in the Region continue to have inadequate coverage of routine or supplementary immunizations to eliminate measles, achieve the hepatitis B goal, and mitigate the risks resulting from wild poliovirus importation, WHO's Regional Committee meeting was told.

An estimated 25 of the Western Pacific's 37 countries and areas have likely eliminated measles and 27 will probably achieve hepatitis B control by 2012, reflecting a dramatic decline in measles incidence and deaths and in hepatitis B infection among children.

Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, told the meeting that countries need to make available additional human and financial resources to fully implement the established strategies against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Two-dose immunization coverage is inadequate in some countries, making it difficult to achieve and sustain measles elimination. Very high coverage during upcoming immunization campaigns will be critical to interrupt measles virus transmission throughout the Region. In addition, nine countries with insufficient immunization coverage levels to achieve the hepatitis B infection control goal will need to strengthen efforts to reduce chronic infection rates and mortality from liver disease, the meeting was told.

Dr Shin said that preventing the potential spread of imported wild poliovirus by reducing immunization and surveillance gaps in countries is far more cost effective than bringing a polio outbreak under control.

But coverage with three doses of oral polio vaccine was less than 90% in 10 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region in 2009. The recent importation of wild poliovirus into the WHO European Region and the subsequent polio outbreak in Tajikstan, which shares a border with China, and the Russian Federation which shares borders with China and Mongolia, serves as a reminder that achieving and maintaining high levels of immunization coverage and good surveillance quality are important to keep the Region polio-free. “Countries should be ready for the importation threat with a comprehensive national importation preparedness plan,” Dr Shin said.

To view the French version

Fact Sheet

Measles in the Western Pacific Region

  • High coverage with two doses of vaccine through routine and supplementary immunization activities decreased measles deaths in the Region by 92% between 2000 and 2008.
  • The annual number of measles deaths in the Region is currently less than 2000.
  • Measles incidence decreased by 58%, from 81.6 per million population in 2008 to 34.0 per million population in 2009.

Hepatitis B in the Western Pacific Region

· An estimated 27 countries and areas, comprising 88% of the Region's population, are likely to achieve the interim milestone of reducing chronic hepatitis B infection to less than 2% among 5-year-old children in 2012, based on reported immunization coverage data and existing prevalence data.

Poliomyelitis in the Western Pacific Region

  • The Region has remained free of poliomyelitis despite the persistent risk of wild poliovirus importation from endemic and re-infected areas. In 2010, this risk was highlighted by a large polio outbreak in Tajikistan and the subsequent spread in to the Russian Federation. Two countries in the region, China and Mongolia, border with those countries.

For media-related queries or interview requests, please contact:

Marilu Lingad
Philippine mobile: +63 908 891 4532
Malaysia mobile: 019 3792683

Peter Cordingley
Philippine mobile: +63 918 963 0224
Malaysia mobile: 019 3772897

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