The world could save 20 million children in the next five years with better access to vaccines, according to Wits Reproductive Health Institute Executive Director Helen Rees.
“We are still seeing far too many children with diarrhoea and respiratory infections,” said Rees, who was speaking at the International Women’s Forum in Johannesburg yesterday.
It is estimated that two million children globally died in 2013 from preventable diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and measles. Measles is one of the most common childhood diseases in children under the age of two.
“If we can get 90 percent coverage of children with measles vaccinations we can literally save millions of lives,” Rees told Health-e News.
In 2012, government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) released very different estimates of South Africa’s measles vaccination rates. Government cited 100 percent coverage while WHO estimated that only 79 percent of children had been immunised.
Both estimates are based on problematic data but what is clear is that South African measles vaccines are not reaching the 95 percent of children needed to eliminate new cases.
Rees said there was a need to analyse vaccine data to ensure pockets of vulnerable children were reached.
“We need to ask ourselves where are those people who are not getting the access to the immunization situated?” she said. “We need to be able to identify those vulnerable communities “.
Former Deputy Health Minister Dr Gwen Ramokgopa said despite broad gains made by the country’s immunisation programmes, gains should not be taken for granted.
“It is possible to eradicate these diseases but we must remain vigilant and not be complacent, we must continue strengthening our health systems”.
Ramokgopa also lauded government’s recent introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine among schoolgirls to help protect them from the virus that causes some forms of cervical cancer.
An edited version of this story was first published in The Saturday Star newspaper.