Lagos – African health ministers, political leaders and technical experts have pledged to ensure improved access to vaccines to reduce child mortality, morbidity and disability in the continent.
They also pledged to keep immunisation at the forefront of efforts to reduce child killer-diseases.
A statement by Kamyar Jarahzadeh of Global Health Strategies, said the leaders made the commitment at the maiden Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa, held from Feb. 24 to Feb.25 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Global Health Strategies is a sub-unit in the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The conference was hosted by WHO Regional Offices for Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean in conjunction with the African Union Commission.
The statement noted that the commitment was necessitated by the fact that a recent WHO finding showed that one in five African children lacked access to needed and basic life-saving vaccines.
“ The WHO report also shows that routine immunisation coverage has increased considerably across Africa since 2000; measles deaths declined by 86 per cent between 2000 and 2014.
“The introduction of new vaccines has been a major success.
“However, three critical diseases including measles, rubella and neo-natal tetanus remain endemic.
“Many countries also have fragile health systems that leave immunisation programmes vulnerable to shocks,’’ the statement said.
The ministers also signed a declaration to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases and to close the immunisation gap by 2020.
According to the statement, the declaration commits countries to increasing domestic financial investments in order to deliver routine immunisations and roll out new vaccines.
It said that the economic benefits of immunisations were proven to greatly out-weigh the costs.
According to the statement, recent research shows that the benefits of preventing illness and lost productivity are 16 times greater than the required investment in vaccines.
The Ethiopian Minister of Health, Dr Kesetebirhan Admasu, said: “Our children are our most precious resource, yet one in five fail to receive all the immunisations they need to survive and thrive.
“This leaves millions vulnerable to preventable disease.
“This is not acceptable. African children’s lives matter, we must work together to ensure the commitments we make in Addis Ababa translate into results,’’ Admasu said.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the Gavi Board and former Finance Minister of Nigeria said: “ We all agree that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective solutions in global health.
“Investing in immunisation programmes will enable African countries to see an outstanding economic benefit.
“If we can ensure that all African children can access life-saving vaccines, we will have a golden opportunity to create a more prosperous future for communities across our continent,’’ Okonjo-Iweala said.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said, “the ministerial conference achieved its goal of uniting leaders from across Africa behind the single goal of reaching every child with the vaccines they need.
“Now, we will carry this momentum forward from Addis Ababa, stay accountable to our commitments and close the immunisation gap once and for all,’’ Moeti said.