WHO Regional Director Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo (undated photo)
WHO Regional Director Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo (undated photo)

The first annual regional World Health Organization conference on immunization is underway in Harare. 

On the agenda of the conference is a review of the status of immunization in the 46-country sub-Saharan region, according to WHO Regional Director Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo.

"And also to share information about new vaccines and also to share information about the current levels of coverage of immunization services in the African region," said Luis Gomes Sambo.

The conference takes place at a time when there has been a considerable decline of under-five mortality in the region.  But Dr. Sambo said sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 51 percent of all under-five deaths globally in 2008.  At this rate, he said, Africa cannot achieve the fourth U.N. Millenium Development Goal to reduce under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

Dr. Sambo said though progress has been made, preventable diseases like measles are still among the leading causes of death for young children.  In 2008, 18 children died from measles every hour.

Polio is another disease on the retreat.  Since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, polio infections have declined by 99 percent with less than 2,000 cases reported in 2006.  As of last year only Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria remain polio endemic.

The immunization target for Africa is at least 85 percent.  At the moment it is only 74 percent.  Dr. Sambo said there are still many challenges to achieve the target.

"We need better management of the available resources for immunization, human resources, technologies and we need increased funding to improve the capacity of governments to purchase vaccines and we need also greater mobilization of people," he said. "We need to inform people that to bring their people to vaccination campaigns."

Participants from WHO headquarters, regional offices, four African health ministers, other U.N. agencies and WHO immunization partners are attending the conference that continues through Thursday.