National Vaccination Program Still Faces Hurdles

World Immunization Week begins today amid efforts by the government and the World Health Organization (WHO) to expand the National Immunization Program by introducing new vaccines, and reaching children who remain unprotected from preventable diseases such as measles.

By 1997, a successful immunization campaign helped rid Cambodia of polio. And while the last confirmed case of measles in Cambodia was reported in Kompong Speu province in November 2011, vaccinations still need to increase, particularly targeting the 20 percent of children under 15 who re­mained unprotected, according to a WHO study conducted in 2011.

“We must reach the high-risk populations—the urban and rural poor, the ethnic minorities in remote areas and workers who move between their villages and areas of employment,” said Sann Chan Soeung, an adviser to the Ministry of Health’s Na­tional Immunization Program.

The focus for 2013 is to ensure that the immunization campaign reaches these most marginalized communities, he said. A WHO report released earlier this month identified 1,600 communities where children were not receiving vaccinations. Most of those at risk were groups who have difficulty accessing regular health services, such as the poor, “and many were from ethnic minorities and internal migrant populations.”

Families previously traveled to health centers to be vaccinated, but the 2011 WHO study concluded that in order to reach marginalized groups, health workers needed to bring the vaccinations to villages.

A new strategy, aptly titled Reaching Every Community was implemented, using local health volunteers to alert villagers to immunization sessions, which are set up either in village leaders’ homes or in the market place, the report notes.

On the back of Cambodia’s measles vaccination success, the WHO and National Immunization Program last week secured $7 million from the Gavi Alliance global health partnership to fund a 2014 immunization project for rubella for children and youth aged between 9 months and 15 years, said Richard Duncan, a technical officer for the WHO.

The government has also applied to Gavi to fund an immunization project beginning in 2015 against pneumococcal, a bacteria that causes pneumonia and meningitis, Mr. Duncan said.

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