By Kemo Cham
Vaccine preventable diseases are killing an unacceptably high number of people despite recent gains in immunization, a group of experts has warned.
The African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group (RITAG), which comprises immunization experts, said tangible actions were required to stem the tide of vaccine preventable diseases in the WHO African Region. They made the call in a statement at the end of a 2-day meeting last week in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. That forum discussed the state of immunization in the region.
RITAG is an outfit of the WHO regional office and serves as the principal advisory group to the Regional Director on regional immunization policies and programmes. The group said while Africa has realized tremendous gains in access to immunization in the last 15 years, progress has stagnated, with statistics showing that one in five African children were without access to life-saving vaccines.
“As a result, vaccine-preventable diseases still claim too many lives. Measles alone accounts for approximately 61,000 preventable deaths in the region every year,” the WHO Country office said in a press released copied to Politico.
Dr Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Senegal’s Minister of Health and Social Action, was cited in the statement saying that immunization was one of the most cost-effective public health interventions and that ensuring universal access to it could drive real progress towards the health related Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr Coll-Seck said in an opening statement at the Dakar meeting that despite the “good progress”, now was the time to up the game.
“Senegal is proud to have hosted this important meeting, aimed at ensuring that all children across Africa have access to the vaccines they need to survive and thrive,” she said.
Financing immunization has been a longstanding concern for Africa and it was at the center of the RITAG meeting.
The child diseases polio, measles, rubella and maternal and neonatal tetanus remain top priorities for eventual elimination in the region.
Earlier this year the outbreak of yellow fever in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo reemphasized the pressure faced by health authorities in the region.
These are well captured in the Addis Declaration on Immunization, an African Health Ministers’ pact which includes 10 commitments aimed at ensuring all children in Africa receive the full benefits of immunization.
The Dakar RITAG meeting highlighted three key issues: the need to better understand drivers of stagnating progress in immunization coverage trend; Integration of immunization services into the broader health systems strengthening agenda; and the importance of increasing community-level engagement.
Dr Deo Nshimirimana, WHO Country Representative in Senegal, sees the possibility of progress in the coming years, but only with concerted effort.
“The conversations showed that we have all the tools to make sure every child in our countries has a healthy start in life,” he said.
RITAG presented a draft of recommendations geared towards advancing the immunization agenda in the region. The committee is expected to reconvene in six months to evaluate progress and reassess the recommendations.
“RITAG has discussed some of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing immunization programs across Africa, and we have developed a game plan that can take our collective efforts to the next level,” said RITAG Chair, Professor Helen Rees.
“I am confident that, together, we can make tremendous progress toward ensuring universal access to immunization in the coming years,” Rees added.
(C) Politico 22/12/16