World News Digest: April 19, 2013

U.N. and Partners Call Attention to Challenges Preventing Global Immunization

U.N. agencies and global health organizations called attention yesterday to the urgent need to improve delivery of vaccines and to communicate clearly the importance of immunization. They released a statement ahead of World Immunization Week.

“We have seen some major advances in the development and delivery of vaccines in the past few years,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO). “But many countries still face obstacles in getting life saving vaccines to every child who needs them.”

The joint statement identifies several challenges, such as the inability to keep vaccines at the correct temperature and inaccurate recordkeeping. UNICEF, WHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the GAVI Alliance authored the joint statement.

Vaccination prevents an estimated 2 million to 3 million deaths every year, according to U.N. figures, from preventable diseases such as diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, pneumonia, polio rotavirus, diarrhea, rubella and tetanus.

However, an estimated 22 million children are not immunized against preventable diseases, the statement reports. They attribute that high figure to a failure to communicate the health benefits of immunization. At the same time, prevalent myths about negative side effects of vaccines also contribute to the high number of unimmunized children.

“In some parts of the world, complacency about immunization has led to gaps in vaccination coverage,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director of UNICEF. “When gaps occur, outbreaks follow.”


Empowerment of urban women and youth vital for future prosperity of cities

A new study titled State of Women in Cities Report 2012/13 calls for gender equality in employment, housing, health and education. This urgent appeal released on April 18 comes because population experts project that women will comprise a majority in the world’s urban centers and will increasingly head households.

The report, produced by the UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) states: “It is imperative that women and men should enjoy equal rights and opportunities in cities on moral/ethical, economic and political grounds. This will not only engender women’s well-being but it will increase their individual and collective prosperity, as well as the prosperity of the cities in which they reside.”

UN-HABITAT also released State of Urban Youth 2012/2013. It underscores that the young are “society’s most important and dynamic human resource.” But about 45 percent of them live on less than $2 a day and lack access to education or opportunities to acquire job skills.


Global Newborn Health Conference Adds Momentum to Reach MDG of Reducing Global Child Mortality Rate

The first Global Newborn Health Conference ended yesterday with a call to achieve the MDG (Millennium Development Goal) to reduce child mortality.

Ahead of the four-day conference, held in Johannesburg, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “The Global Newborn Health Conference can add to the growing global momentum as the effort to reach the MDGs enters its final stretch.”

Each year, 3 million children die within their first month of life from three largely preventable or treatable causes: prematurity, birth asphyxia and infection, according to UNICEF, which assisted in organizing the event in collaboration with WHO and other partners.

Discussions focused on scaling up low-cost, high-impact existing interventions, such as using inexpensive medicines and exclusively breastfeeding after birth, which could help save the lives of millions of babies each year. Participants also talked about ways to help countries develop action plans designed to reduce the mortality rates of babies during the first month of their lives.

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Nigel Roberts
Nigel Roberts is the Communications Committee Chair of the J. Luce Foundation. He's also a communications consultant and freelance writer. His clients have included (now retired) U.S. Congressman Ed Towns.

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