WHO immunization program marks 40 years

The World Health Organization's Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) recently observed its 40th anniversary.

The WHO project, which launched in 1974, targets six vaccine-preventable diseases: polio, diphtheria, tuberculosis, pertussis, measles and tetanus. The EPI built on lessons learned in the global eradication of smallpox to reach large numbers of unvaccinated people, even in remote areas.

In 1974, approximately 5 percent of children worldwide were protected against diseases targeted by the WHO program. In 2014, approximately 83 percent of children are protected.

Lindiwe Khumalo of Soweto, South Africa, benefitted from the program when she was a child and recently brought her children to receive vaccinations. The instructions and scheduling booklet provided by the WHO helped to remind her when to bring the children to be immunized.

"My other child, who is six, is due to get more tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations soon," Khumalo said. "It is easy to remember because the date the children need to be brought back is written in the booklet."

The WHO is currently developing systems, tools and mechanisms to improve the recording and reporting of the diseases EPI protects against to better reach the approximately 22 million children worldwide who are not vaccinated.

"We need to build on the good surveillance programs that monitor polio and measles, so policymakers can really see the impact of the vaccination program and are therefore willing to invest or continue to fund it," Thomas Cherian, the EPI coordinator from 2006-2012, said.