“Speaking at the opening of a high-level conference on childhood immunization, which takes place this week in Budapest, Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, stated that on immunization issues, Europe “stands at a crossroads”.
Despite the challenges, Ms Jakab remains confident that the European Region will achieve its goals of remaining polio free and eliminating measles and rubella, as well as reducing mortality from other vaccine-preventable diseases. This, she underlined, will be achieved by continuing collaboration and innovation, joint planning and the implementation of effective preventive measures.
Vaccines and immunization have contributed to dramatic health improvements in the WHO European Region, particularly among children. Globally, there was a 99% reduction in poliomyelitis (polio) cases and a 78% reduction in measles mortality between 2000 and 2008.
Thanks to collaborative efforts, the Region is on the threshold of eliminating measles and rubella. The benefits of vaccination are increasingly extended to adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis and cancer.
Yet this progress faces several threats: high levels of population movement, the existence of unimmunized groups because of limited access to health care services and a continuing decline in vaccine acceptance among populations. Today, the Region must deal with recent and continuing measles outbreaks, and the re-emergence of polio last year.