A child taking the oral polio vaccine
‘Every year, more than 30 million African children under the age of five fall ill and 500 000 die due to vaccine-preventable diseases.
“This accounts for 58% of global deaths from these diseases,’ says the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
The WHO Africa Region is indicating that Africa’s immunization coverage has struggled to keep pace with population growth and remains at 76% in the African Region, far short of the 90% target.
The result of this shortfall is the outbreak of measles in six African countries in the past year.
“In the most severe outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there were more than 360 000 cases and more than 6600 deaths. Many of those affected were children,” said Dr Moeti, in a statement to commemorate the African Vaccination week.
She said to strengthen the continent’s immunization coverage, ‘we need to strengthen essential health services as part of building resilient health systems.
Strong primary health care systems are the most effective way to do this and to progress towards universal health coverage.’
Dr. Moeti also urged countries to maintain routine immunization services, using innovative approaches and with strong infection prevention control practices in health facilities to protect communities from vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks during this unprecedented time.
She said even in times of crisis, provision of routine immunization services, as part of essential health service delivery, should continue.
“Now is the time also, to increase investment in vaccine research and development.
African countries should engage in clinical trials that meet international standards so that the resulting products are adapted to meet regional needs.
Through technology transfer, vaccine production in African countries should increase, to reduce the continent’s reliance on importing these essential products,” she added.
Africa Vaccination Week has been celebrated in the last week of April every year since 2001. WHO celebrates African Vaccination Week in unison with World Immunization Week.
This year’s theme is “vaccines work for all”, celebrating the people who develop, deliver and receive vaccines as heroes, contributing to protecting everyone, everywhere. Never has this been clearer, than in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
During African Vaccination Week celebrations over the past nine years, immunization has reached more than 180 million people.
This year, as most countries remain in lockdown, campaign activities have been postponed in line with physical distancing measures.
When COVID-19 transmission is contained, scaling-up supplementary immunization will be a priority to ensure we reach communities in need, particularly those most at risk.
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri