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WHO Starts Simultaneous Immunization Campaigns in Over 100 Countries

The World Health Organization is kicking off simultaneous immunization campaigns on Saturday in 112 countries and territories across WHO's Regions of the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean and Europe. WHO says such cross-border activities can prevent disease and save lives.

This is the first time the World Health Organization has launched such an event. WHO officials say their goal is to expand immunization coverage and raise awareness of the importance of vaccines.

WHO spokesman, Daniel Epstein, says many countries are working to eliminate measles. He says countries in the European region are very concerned that they have stalled in their goal of eliminating measles and rubella this year.

"In European countries, in many of them, immunization coverage is below the 95 percent recommended level. And, there have been ongoing measles outbreaks in some of these countries. Measles cases have also been imported to the U.S. and Canada and the Americas from European countries," said Epstein.

WHO says an important goal of the immunization campaigns is to reach those who have been excluded up to now.

It notes every year, in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 25 percent of deaths among children under age five is attributed to vaccine preventable diseases.

In the Americas, WHO says special regional events are being held in border areas of Nicaragua, between Suriname and French Guyana, and between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It says many young children, pregnant women, elderly and indigenous peoples live in isolated areas where vaccine coverage is low.

In all three regions, Daniel Epstein says the vaccination campaigns will be accompanied by health information campaigns.

"The biggest obstacle to reaching our goals of vaccination are lack of awareness, lack of information and people being ignorant that they should be vaccinated and thus not having enough vaccinators, money, trucks, bicycles, etc. to get to these remote regions," he said.

On a related issue, WHO reports a big polio immunization campaign will begin across 16 countries in central and West Africa on Saturday. It says 78 million children under five will be vaccinated to stop a big outbreak of this crippling disease.