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INTERNATIONAL, HEALTH

World Immunization week: Timor-Leste’s focused efforts in immunization are vital pillar of public health

World Immunization week: Timor-Leste’s focused efforts in immunization are vital pillar of public health

Image TATOLI/Francisco Sony

By Dr. Arvind Mathur, WHO Representative to Timor-Leste

In Timor-Leste, the profound impact of vaccines on public health is undeniable. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1980s, followed by polio in the 1990s. Maternal and neonatal tetanus were eliminated in 2012, measles in 2018, and most recently rubella in 2023. Over the years, the nation has launched numerous immunization campaigns, including catch-up and supplementary drives. In 2015, a national campaign aimed to immunize 500,000 children against measles, rubella, and polio, achieving over 90% coverage.

To combat disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Timor-Leste initiated an integrated immunization campaign in January 2023, focusing on reaching zero-dose and dropout children. This endeavour significantly improved immunization coverage rates for various antigens compared to previous years.

As we observe the World Immunization Week from April 24 to 30 with the theme ‘Humanly Possible: Saving lives through immunization’, Timor-Leste stands as a testament to the global impact of immunization efforts. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), highlighting collective global efforts to combat vaccine-preventable diseases and urging increased investments in immunization programs to safeguard future generations.

Over the past two decades, Timor-Leste has made remarkable strides in public health, increasing life expectancy by over 10 years for every citizen. Immunization programs have played a pivotal role in this progress. Aligned with global advancements, Timor-Leste expanded its vaccination program from 6 antigens in the 1990s to 11 antigens today.

Soon, the country will introduce Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines for girls in grades 6 to 9, further strengthening the nation’s arsenal against vaccine-preventable diseases. These vaccines are known to be highly efficacious in preventing precancerous cervical lesions and cervical cancers.

However, there is no time for complacency. To ensure a safer and healthier future, Timor-Leste must maintain its focus on immunization programs to prevent disease resurgence and continue the fight against active diseases. It is imperative for the government, partners, and stakeholders to prioritize vaccines, integrate them into healthcare planning and investment, ensure adequate financing for vaccination programs, accelerate research and innovation for vaccine access, and advocate for the impact of vaccinations locally, nationally, and globally. These efforts will significantly enhance the health and well-being of the Timorese people.

 

TATOLI

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