In 1974, a global initiative was born – the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI). It began as a response to combat and prevent communicable diseases, a crucial step after the triumph over smallpox. Fast forward to 2024, and the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of a program that has reshaped global health.

EPI, now known as the Essential Programme on Immunisation, was a response to the triumph over smallpox, seeking to provide universal access to life-saving vaccines for children worldwide. What started with just six vaccines has grown to thirteen, with recent additions like COVID-19 vaccines. 

The timeline of EPI is marked by milestones like the eradication of smallpox in 1980. A unique collaboration between WHO, Rotary International, CDC, UNICEF, the Gates Foundation, and Gavi has reduced polio by over 99%, bringing the world close to eradicating a human pathogen for the second time in history.

The 1980s saw a bold mission: to immunise every child against preventable diseases. Working with governments, UNICEF facilitated one of the largest logistical mobilisations in peacetime history, achieving 80% global childhood immunisation levels by the early 1990s. 

The creation of Gavi added another dimension to EPI’s success, introducing new vaccines targeting diseases like Hib, Pneumococcal infections, rotavirus, HPV, meningitis A, Japanese encephalitis, and malaria. EPI innovations, such as injection safety practices and solar power integration, have extended beyond immunisation to benefit other health programs.

EPI’s impact has evolved from protecting against six childhood diseases to encompassing older children, adolescents, and adults. With 13 recommended vaccines, including COVID-19 for adults, EPI’s commitment to holistic health is evident. Operating in synergy with other public health programs, EPI contributes to disease control and improves global health outcomes. Immunisation emerges as one of the most efficient and cost-effective healthcare interventions, connecting marginalised communities with primary healthcare. 

As EPI marks its 50th anniversary, it is not just a celebration of past achievements but a call to set new ambitions. The program’s success in preventing diseases, improving child and maternal health, and advancing healthcare equity underscores the significance of immunisation in public health. Facing challenges like climate change, pandemics, and technological advancements, EPI is poised to adapt and remain a pivotal force in shaping health outcomes. 

Therefore, more structured and collaborative efforts among partners like WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, and others can further strengthen EPI’s impact, ensuring that essential immunisation remains a global priority and continues to save lives for generations to come. The history of EPI is not just a chronicle of achievements but a narrative of resilience, adaptability, and a commitment to a healthier world. 

References: 

50th anniversary of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) [Internet]. Who.int. [cited 2024 Jan 2]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2024/01/01/default-calendar/50th-anniversary-of-the-expanded-programme-on-immunization-(epi) 

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