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Closing the Immunisation Gap

Lazarus Sauti
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Children are the leaders of tomorrow. They are the future as well as the assurance of the continuity of the human race. Yet, they are the most vulnerable members of the society.

For instance, an estimated 21.8 million infants worldwide are still missing out on basic immunisation vaccines due to limited resources, competing health priorities, poor management of health systems, shortage of accurate information, insufficient political and financial support in addition to inadequate monitoring and supervision, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO added, “Progress towards global vaccination targets for 2015 is far off-track with one in five children still missing out on routine life-saving immunisations that could avert 1.5 million deaths each year from preventable diseases.”

Africa, still suffering with poor health systems, is still faced with immunisation challenges. The continent, therefore, needs to improve its immunisation coverage to effectively protect its citizens from vaccine-preventable diseases. Judy Kinya, a clinical expert, agrees that despite recent progress within African countries, there are still opportunities provided by immunisation.

“Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective and successful health interventions as it can protect against 30 different infectious diseases, from infancy to old age. “There is need for increased immunisation systems strengthening in Africa as immunisation proved to be amongst the most cost-effective public health interventions for reducing child morbidity as well as mortality,” noted Kinya.

The WHO concurs, saying immunisation prevents illness, disability and deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases such as cervical cancer, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, mumps, pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and measles. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director also said vaccination is a gift that protects people of all ages against life threatening diseases.

“Vaccines are one of the greatest advances in human history. They save millions of lives each year and are among the most cost-effective health interventions ever developed,” she said. Accordingly, priority needs to be given to strengthening routine vaccination in most, if not all, African countries as the continent is still home to some states with the highest number of unvaccinated children.

Reaching children in remote rural areas as well as urban slums, for instance, is still the biggest challenge faced by health practitioners in some African countries like Kenya, as they move forward to close the immunisation gap. “Particular efforts are needed to reach the underserved, especially those in remote areas, in deprived urban settings, in fragile states and strife-torn regions,” said the WHO.

To reach the underserved as well as to close the immunisation gap, African governments must simply integrate immunisation with other health services, such as post-natal care for mothers and babies. Stakeholders involved in immunisation matters, says Dr Moeti, must also remind communities of the importance of vaccinations to protect people of all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Countries and stakeholders must raise the awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases,” she said, adding that they must also address barriers to vaccination and make substantial and sustained additional investments to strengthen health systems and achieve universal immunisation coverage by 2020.

The African Press Organisation, the sole press release wire in Africa, and the global leader in media relations related to the continent, also said ensuring equity and coverage across the continent and within the countries requires sustained effort and resources; and thus, by investing in immunisation, African nations can make a lasting contribution to development goals. Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO, agreed.

“What is required is a truly concerted effort and much stronger accountability so that each one of the key players involved fulfils its mandate and helps close the immunisation gap,” affirmed Okwo-Bele. Dr Moeti also believes there is urgent need for multi-sectoral collaboration to adopt locally-tailored approaches to maximise accessibility and utilisation of immunisation services.

To realise this, African governments and partners in the health fraternity must work with the World Health Organisation to improve vaccination coverage on the continent. They must also effectively implement the Regional Immunisation Strategic Plan 2014-2020 and the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP).

Dr Moeti said that the recently endorsed Regional Immunisation Strategic Plan 2014-2020 should be translated into national priorities and actions as it aims to provide universal access to immunisation and other life-saving interventions for everyone by 2020, particularly for vulnerable populations. GVAP, on the other hand, is a roadmap to prevent millions of deaths through more equitable access to vaccines.

The plan was developed by multiple stakeholders – United Nations agencies, governments, global agencies, development partners, health professionals, academics, manufacturers and civil society.

Published: 2015/05/11. By Lazarus Sauti
Copyright ©  2015 Southern Times Africa

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