WHO commissioner warns we face a resurgence of diseases ‘already fought off’

“Vaccines are one of the great breakthroughs of the twentieth century,” he said in February, before the keynote address of the Academy of Medicine. “They have saved millions of lives and provided our children with a more secure future.”

On Monday, Mr. Spielvogel and other researchers will meet with a number of health ministers at the World Health Organization for the organization’s annual assembly in Geneva.

The challenge of protecting infants from deadly diseases was the impetus behind the creation of WHO’s Vaccine and Immunization Committee (VIC), made up of experts from the member states that establish immunization programs.

To protect children, WHO recommends immunization against 10,000 different diseases, from polio to diphtheria to measles. Some of these can be controlled with vaccines — by adding a dose of a measles vaccine, for example, a child can keep from contracting measles. Others, such as measles, are invariably fatal.

That daunting task has required years of work and millions of dollars to successfully curtail, as it did in the case of measles in Europe. And it can have unforeseen consequences, as the health authorities in southeast Asia discovered in 2004, when a new type of chicken pox seemed to sprout up after a years-long absence. In India, however, one large outbreak of meningitis has already been contained.

WHO has also faced criticism for not moving quickly enough on some diseases, such as a high percentage of deaths in some African nations from measles, and certain vaccines in some regions of the world have turned out to be ineffective or cause allergic reactions.

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