AFRICAN countries have been urged to Global immunisation strengthen their routine immunisation coverage while increasing domestic investment in disease surveillance and community engagement to drive vaccine deployment during disease outbreaks.
Experts attending the biannual Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (RITAG) meeting in Brazzaville worried that over the past five years, immunisation coverage in sub-Saharan Africa has stagnated at 72 percent, exposing populations to vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks.
“The regional experts’ meeting presented a unique opportunity to assess current and future immunization needs in Africa,” said RITAG Chair, Professor Helen Rees.
“We have mapped out what can and must be done to secure the future of millions of children on this continent.” According to WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti:
“By vaccinating children, we are doing more than preventing diseases and saving lives. We are also ensuring that children get the education they deserve and returning valuable time to their families because they no longer need to make long hospital visits. Vaccinations also release scarce government funds,” she stated.
According to WHO data, illness and deaths due to vaccine-preventable diseases cost sub-Saharan Africa US$13 billion each year – funding that could be channelled towards strengthening health systems and building economies.
Diseases, such as polio, are on the brink of eradication. The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was reported in August 2016 in the north-eastern state of Borno, Nigeria. If no new cases of wild poliovirus are detected in Nigeria by August 2019, Africa will attain the wild poliovirus eradication goal.
The Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group emphasised the need for greater government ownership of disease surveillance programmes to ensure that the progress made in curbing vaccine-preventable diseases is not reversed.
“The fact that most sub-Saharan African countries continue to rely on external funding for immunization financing is a strong indicator of the work that remains to be done,” said Dr Richard Mihigo, Programme Manager for Immunisation and Vaccine Development at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
“Governments have a central role to play to fill upcoming funding gaps and ensure immunization programmes remain strong and vigilant.”
As the world nears polio eradication, funds for fighting the disease are declining. Between 2016 and 2019, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative budget more than halved, from US$ 322 million to US$ 153 million.
That initiative provides more than 90 percent of all funding for disease surveillance in sub-Saharan Africa, including 16 polio-funded laboratories that process clinical and environmental samples for acute flaccid paralysis surveillance (used for detecting poliomyelitis) and other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as yellow fever and measles.