African health ministers, others pledge improved access to vaccines

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

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.

The decisions were taken at the maiden Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa, which ended in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday.

A release by Kamyar Jarahzadeh of the Global Health Strategies and obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, indicated the continental health officials are committed to overall improvement healthcare delivery in Africa.

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,” part of the statement indicated.

“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 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.

The declaration commits countries to increasing domestic financial investments in order to deliver routine immunisations and roll out new vaccines.

Citing a recent research, the conference agreed that benefits of preventing illness and lost productivity are 16 times greater than the required investment in vaccines.

“Our children are our most precious resource, yet one in five fail to receive all the immunisations they need to survive and thrive, Ethiopian Minister of Health, Kesetebirhan Admasu, said.

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.”

The Chair of the Governing Board and Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, insisted that vaccines are the most cost-effective solutions to global health.

“We all agree that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective solutions in global health,” she said.

“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.”

On his part, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said, Matshidiso Moeti, said the conference was meant to unite leaders across Africa to ensure that every child has access to vaccines.

“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,” Mr. Moeti said.

“Now, we will carry this momentum forward from Addis Ababa, stay accountable to our commitments and close the immunisation gap once and for all.”

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