African states slacking on immunisation rates

Saturday January 26 2019


In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 31 million children below five years suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases every year. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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Over the past five years, immunisation coverage in sub-Saharan Africa has stagnated at 72 percent, exposing populations to vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks, according to the World Health Organisation.

The Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (RITAG) now wants African countries to strengthen routine immunisation programmes.

“We have mapped out what can and must be done to secure the future of millions of children on this continent,” said RITAG chair Helen Rees.

In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 31 million children below five years suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases every year. More than a half million of them die due to lack of access to the vaccines they needed.

In 2017, heads of state from across Africa endorsed the Addis Declaration on Immunisation, a historic pledge that seeks to ensure that every child on the continent, no matter their economic circumstances, has access to vaccines.

This year, the WHO regional office for Africa, in partnership with the African Union Commission, will launch a progress report on the implementation status of the 10 commitments outlined in the Addis Declaration. The report will outline progress made over the past two years as well as highlight gaps and issue recommendations.

“By vaccinating children, we are doing more than preventing disease 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,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

According to WHO data, illness and deaths due to vaccine-preventable diseases cost sub-Saharan Africa $13 billion each year — funding that could be channelled towards strengthening health systems and building economies.

The WHO meeting held in Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo also discussed the ongoing Ebola outbreak and polio eradication.

The last case of wild poliovirus in Africa was reported in August 2016 in the northeastern state of Borno, Nigeria. If no new cases are detected by August, Africa will attain the global poliovirus eradication goal.

RITAG emphasised the need for greater government ownership of disease surveillance programmes.

“Governments have a central role to play to ensure immunisation programmes remain strong and vigilant.” said Richard Mihigo, programme manager for Immunisation and Vaccine Development at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.