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It’s World Immunisation Week with urgent calls from health professionals to educate parents and health care workers on the necessity of vaccinating children. “Immunisation is one of the most effective ways of reducing illness and death in children, yet many children in South Africa and the rest of the African continent do not benefit from this life-saving measure.” That’s the word from Prof Charles Wiysonge of the Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. According to Wiysonge it is estimated that 1.5 million children died globally from vaccine-preventable diseases in 2013. “Vaccines are different from medicines. Normally people only take medicines when they are sick, but you take vaccines to prevent disease in future.”

South Africa has one of the most robust immunisation programmes on the continent, offering vaccinations against some of the common diseases responsible for childhood deaths and disability, including polio, measles, TB, tetanus and pneumococcal disease (responsible for pneumonia, ear infections, meningitis and other diseases). Wiysonge told Smile that despite the range of vaccines available, only about two-thirds of South African children are estimated to receive the full series of immunisations.  “In line with the Millennium Development Goals, we have to ensure that our children’s right to health, development and survival is respected, protected and promoted,” says Wiysonge.

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