Rx for Child Survival

Ask the Experts

Dr. Peter Salama

Dr. Peter Salama

Chief of Immunization and Child Survival, UNICEF

Many diseases are vaccine-preventable. Because of aggressive and successful vaccination efforts, diseases such as polio, diphtheria, and measles rarely affect American children today. Should American parents continue routinely to have their children vaccinated? Why is the vaccination of children around the world a matter of concern to Americans?

As in most developed countries, the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S is generally low because most infants and children are protected by immunization. In the past, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio were important causes of death and disability among American children. Today, such diseases are rare in the U.S. However, the recent cases of polio in Minnesota demonstrate that, in a world of international travel and inter-connectedness, all children that are unvaccinated are vulnerable. Immunization remains critically relevant for American children and we need to ensure coverage remains high.

The situation in the developing world provides us with examples of what can happen when immunization coverage is low. West and Central Africa, a region where only 52 percent of children are immunized, still has the greatest rates of illness and death from vaccine-preventable diseases. Globally, some 1.4 million children less than 5 die per year as a result of diseases preventable with the current basic vaccines. With new vaccines against other killers such as pneumoccocus and rotavirus in the pipeline, immunization may be able to prevent around a quarter of all childhood deaths in the near future.

Since 1990, immunization has reached more than 70 percent of children worldwide. In 2002, the United Nations General Assembly committed to immunizing at least 90 percent of all children under the age of one by

Immunization is a global public health good; it remains one of the most cost-effective interventions for reducing child deaths in all countries and one of the best investments for improving school performance and productivity.

Dr. Peter Salama is a physician and epidemiologist. He is chief of immunization and child survival for UNICEF. He was previously responsible for UNICEF's health and nutrition activities in Afghanistan and has worked in several African and Asian countries over the last 10 years. Prior to joining UNICEF he worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He did his medical training in Australia and his postgraduate training in public health at Harvard University and completed the Epidemic Intelligence Service program at CDC, Atlanta. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals on international health topics ranging from measles to malnutrition.