The Ethiopian Ministry of Health expresses its strong commitment to strengthening immunization coverage as Africa’s Heads of State agree on crucial measures to revamp routine immunization across the continent after significant disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic in childhood vaccination programs and increase in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
The leaders of the African Union (AU) endorsed a declaration on “Building momentum for routine immunization recovery in Africa” at a high-level event that took place in Addis Ababa, in conjunction with the 36th Ordinary Session of the AU Heads of State and Government. The declaration aims to revitalize the momentum for all populations to have universal access to immunization to reduce mortality, morbidity, and disability, and subsequently help Member States to achieve their health.
“The plateauing of immunization coverage began before the pandemic and was made worse by the pandemic and other emergencies, which led to a drop in immunization coverage,” Dr. LiaTadesse, Minister of Health, expressed at the high level meeting.
According to projections by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), 8.4 million children in Africa as a whole, as opposed to 18 million worldwide, missed out on immunization programs in 2021. The narrative becomes even more challenging for communities that are poor, marginalized, or who have been made susceptible by conflicts or live in unstable environments to access immunization services.
“Vaccine manufacturing is a medium and long term solution to our continent and we need to enhance our capacity in that regard,” said the Ethiopian Health Minister, adding, “The government is working hard to start local production of vaccines and we are doing market, financial, and product feasibility studies with the support of the World Bank and local stakeholders. Moving forward, high political commitment and synergetic partnerships are integral to the success of our work. We will also use local evidence to identify missed children, because quality control is such a big issue with vaccinations. Furthermore, we have started to create centers of excellence across the country.”
“We believe that it is possible to achieve the national and global immunization targets including eradication and elimination goals. Progress in meeting immunization targets, we believe, is a driver for equitable health outcomes for children, mothers and the population as a whole,” said Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone, adding, “We believe as a government that the returns on investment for immunization are very high for our progress towards meeting the SDGs.”
The declaration, at the event convened by the African Union Commission for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, the Government of Sierra Leone and WHO, also called for urgent measures to, “address persistent bottlenecks in vaccine and healthcare delivery systems, especially in the poorest, vulnerable and most marginalized communities.”
Across the continent, immunization coverage for many vaccine-preventable diseases is well below the 90‒95% range needed to keep Africa free of these diseases. For instance, in 2021, the median vaccination coverage for measles was 69%; while for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis coverage was 82.5%; and 81.5% for the third dose of the polio vaccine.
“Recalling the Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunization endorsed by Heads of State at the 28th African Union Summit, Africa’s leaders hold a mandate to secure sustainable financing toward increasing access to immunization, and work with communities to strengthen immunization systems across the continent. We can end vaccine-preventable diseases and save many more lives. This is core to achieving healthy, prosperous communities as premised in the AU Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want,” underlined Ambassador Minata Samate Cessouma, AU Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development.
“Immunization saves lives and is one of the best health investments that money can buy,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, adding, “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on immunization efforts in Africa and has made it critical for us to catch up, recover and get back to normal.”
In Africa vaccine-preventable diseases are responsible for 93% of ongoing infectious disease outbreaks. Currently, vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks are ongoing in 31 African countries, with 17 having more than one vaccine-preventable disease outbreak. Without renewed political will and immediate, intensified efforts, it is estimated that immunization coverage will not return to 2019 levels until 2027.
The “Building momentum for routine immunization recovery in Africa” declaration also aims to reignite the continent’s commitment to meet the goals of the Immunization Agenda 2030, a new global strategy to address the challenges of immunization and save more than 50 million lives worldwide.
The declaration called on African regional economic communities, health organization and the African Development Bank to support the initiative. It also urged vaccine manufacturers to improve access to doses and UNICEF and WHO to support countries to monitor progress towards the immunization goals.