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Launch of multi-nation vaccination drive in southeast Asia hailed by UNICEF

Launch of multi-nation vaccination drive in southeast Asia hailed by UNICEF

Building upon its unprecedented campaign to protect children against infectious diseases, a global partnership backed by United Nations agencies has launched in Cambodia a multi-country five-year effort to increase access to vaccination for children throughout Southeast Asia.

According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the first child was immunized yesterday in Siem Reap during a ceremony attended by UNICEF's Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, who is the Chairperson of the worldwide campaign known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Also attending the launch was Jacques-François Martin, the President of the Vaccine Fund, which had been launched two years ago with an initial contribution from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"There is no greater investment than protecting a child from infectious disease," Ms. Bellamy said. "The resources provided by the Vaccine Fund will help Cambodia and other recipient countries to expand and intensify their existing vaccination programmes, thereby ensuring a good start in life for every child."

UNICEF estimates that more than 30 million children born each year do not receive any immunization against basic childhood diseases. The lack of immunization leads to the death of about 8,000 children per day. In Cambodia, where the health status is among the poorest in the Western Pacific Region, the infant mortality rate in 1998 was 89 per 1000 compared with a regional average of 38 per 1000 live births.

In addition, more than 10 per cent of Cambodia's population is infected with hepatitis B, UNICEF says. Under the new initiative, the Cambodian Government will receive 683,000 doses of Hepatitis B-Diphtheria, Petussis, Tetanus (HepB-DPT), worth an estimated $296,000. Additional resources have been earmarked for neighbouring Laos and Vietnam.

GAVI is an alliance of partners that came together in January 2000 in response to stagnating global immunization rates and widening disparities in vaccine access among industrialized and developing countries.