Conference ends with calls to improve immunization to save lives

Windhoek 7 December 2011 -- The Third Annual Regional Conference on Immunization has ended in Windhoek, Namibia with growing calls for accelerated actions to improve immunization to save lives. Addressing the closing section of the conference, Dr Luis Sambo, WHO Regional Director for Africa, recognized the progress made and reminded that remaining challenges need to be addressed with increased commitment and collective responsibility.

The Regional Director reaffirmed WHO’s commitment to actively engage with all stakeholders to support governments to further strengthen the performance of national immunization programmes. He reiterated gratitude to the Government of Namibia for the hospitality accorded and excellent facilities provided for the event.

After three days of deliberations, a range of recommendations were made including the following:

  • Polio eradication - Participants agreed among others to place priority on interrupting transmission of polio focusing on countries that have failed to achieve the milestones resulting in continued transmission and importation to other countries. Countries were encouraged to identify and scale-up implementation of innovations to respond faster and improve oral polio vaccine (OPV) campaign quality taking into account vaccination of travelers and migrant populations, expanded age groups and improving monitoring.
  • Strengthening Immunization Systems - The urgent need for immunization partners and stakeholders to reach marginalized populations was also highlighted. Governments were urged to develop sustainable and predictable financing mechanisms for delivery of services, introduction of new vaccines, operational and vaccine costs. They were also requested to use a combination of approaches based on local evidence and integrate immunization with other health programs within the overall context of strengthening health systems.
  • Accelerated Disease Control Initiatives in African Region - It was observed that although routine measles immunization coverage was increasing, more than half of the countries in Africa still have coverage below 80%. The need for countries to strengthen program ownership, mobilize resources and implement planned strategies was stressed. Participants applauded the remarkable results since the introduction of the new conjugate A vaccine (MenAfriVac) against meningitis and underscored the importance of strengthening vaccination campaigns, surveillance as well as continued monitoring to detect outbreaks of other serotypes and pathogens. Regarding yellow fever, participants recommended that despite the decline in outbreaks, immunization partners should ensure that yellow fever control remains high on the agenda and support application of the Yellow Fever Investment Case in countries. The also called on the 11 remaining countries and partners to implement the planned activities aimed at attaining the Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination goals by 2015.

The annual conference, organized by the World Health Organization under the theme ‘Towards a polio-free Africa’ brought together more than 200 participants comprising experts in immunization, vaccine research and development, public health specialists and development partners to review progress and adopt strategies in controlling vaccine preventable diseases.