Address by the Regional Director at the Tenth Meeting of the SEA Region Immunization Technical Advisory Group (SEAR-ITAG)

9-12 July 2019, New Delhi, India

Technical experts, partners, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and a very warm welcome.

This meeting of the Region’s Immunization Technical Advisory Group provides an opportunity to take stock of progress and chart the path ahead.

Commendable progress has indeed been made, and reflects the vision outlined in our Regional Vaccine Action Plan.

In the past five years our Region has been certified as having eliminated polio.

It has been validated for eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus.

The Region has maintained its status on both counts.

I am delighted to announce that Sri Lanka now joins the list of Member States that have eliminated indigenous measles.

Five have now achieved this feat, while six have been verified as having controlled rubella.

All Member States are working to achieve these outcomes, as per the Flagship Priority.

Since 2012, each Member State has introduced or renewed focus on two new or underutilized vaccines.

Ten have introduced three or more new vaccines.

All are moving towards achieving the target of controlling Hepatitis B through immunization.

To verify the achievement of this outcome, I have set-up a Regional Expert Panel. It is currently examining evidence submitted by four countries.

Importantly, the coverage of routine immunization in the Region is higher than ever.

All Member States have incorporated strategies to intensify immunization in their multi-year plans. They continue to implement country-specific actions, with a focus on increasing equity.

Our Region is the first and only region in which all Member States have established National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups that are fully functional. These national advisory bodies are proving vital to strategic guidance.

Indeed, we can be proud of the Region’s many gains. I commend you for your contributions to them.

Moving forward, we must harness this momentum to sustain our achievements, accelerate progress and make the most of innovative technologies and interventions.

As you appreciate, vaccination is one of the most powerful ways our Region can help achieve the strategic priorities and goals at the center of WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work.

It is also one of the best ways to work towards Sustainable Development Goal 3 – to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

And let us not forget the Region’s own Flagship Priorities, several of which are related to, or reliant on, vaccination.

On that note, our Flagship Priority of measles elimination is a good indicator of the strength of immunization systems generally and, by extension, of the quality and reach of the primary health care system.

I note these wider imperatives to highlight the importance of achieving the Regional Vaccine Action Plan’s goals and targets, and of ensuring that the Region’s work is aligned with WHO’s global vision and strategy.

That is precisely what we have gathered to do, with a focus on identifying priority actions to be implemented, both this year and next.

Distinguished participants,

Let us be candid. In acknowledging the Region’s progress, there are also gaps that must be filled and opportunities that must be seized to make further gains.

Consider, for example, that of the 37 million children born in our Region every year, 11% are missing out on basic vaccines during their first year of life. The percentage of those missing vaccination during their second year of life is even higher.

Or look at recent resurgences of diphtheria and measles and reflect on what it says about gaps in vaccination coverage, the dangers of complacency and the need to maintain vigilance.

And contemplate the challenges of population growth, conflict, migration and environmental disruptions and how they will affect – or are already affecting – immunization targets.

As we review progress, identify priority actions and align the Region’s work with the wider global agenda, we must be thorough.

To that end, at this agenda-setting meeting, I urge you to consider the following five key areas of our work.

First, how immunization can be better linked to primary health care and the pursuit of UHC.

Second, how vaccination can be expanded to all underserved populations.

Third, the ways in which sub-national data can be better harnessed to identify gaps in coverage and maximize reach.

Fourth, how more tailored, context-specific approaches can increase coverage and equity.

And fifth, the ways in which we can ensure people and communities are at the center of all interventions and strategies.

Alongside these technical points, I also urge you to consider how we can secure and increase investment in vaccination, especially as countries make the transition away from external support.

The economic argument is powerful. The return on investment is estimated to be around 44 times the cost. Moving forward, this has to be common knowledge, both among policymakers across sectors, as well as the general public.

Rights-based arguments are likewise formidable, especially in enhancing accountability and increasing demand. They are, in fact, at the center of the health sector’s quest to leave no one behind. Wherever possible, we must make it known that vaccination is a core human right that must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

On that note, ‘Protected Together, Vaccines work’, is the theme of this year’s World Immunization Week. In honoring it, we will continue to take the action needed to ensure the Region is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Distinguished participants,

I trust you will give the many considerations I have laid out due diligence over the coming four days. Given the expertise gathered, I also trust that your conclusions and the path ahead will be based on sound technical judgement.

I look forward to being apprised of the outcomes.

I also take this opportunity to thank our many partners for their ongoing support. UNICEF, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, GAVI – The Vaccine Alliance, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, Rotary International, professional bodies and a range of civil society organizations – your support is very much appreciated.

With Dr Gagandeep Kang as the distinguished Chair of our Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group, your contributions to our work have been outstanding. We hope to continue to benefit from them.

I wish you all a productive and engaging meeting. Throughout its course, may you remember who it is we are serving, and why it is we serve.

I am certain the health and well-being of the Region’s 1.8 billion people is in safe hands.

Thank you.