At a landmark Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa held from 24-25 February 2016 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, African ministers of health and other line ministers signed a declaration to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases and to close the immunization gap by 2020. The conference, which was hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Offices for Africa (AFRO) and the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) in conjunction with the African Union Commission (AUC), was the first-ever ministerial-level gathering with a singular focus on ensuring that children across the continent can get access to life-saving vaccines.
“Our children are our most precious resource, yet one in five fail to receive all the immunizations they need to survive and thrive, leaving millions vulnerable to preventable disease,” H.E. Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, Minister of Health for Ethiopia. “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.”
A new report issued at the conference paints a mixed picture on vaccine access, delivery systems and immunization equity in Africa. Routine immunization coverage has increased considerably across Africa since 2000, measles deaths declined by 86% between 2000 and 2014, and the introduction of new vaccines has been a major success. However, one in five children on the continent still do not receive all of the most basic vaccines they need, three critical diseases—measles, rubella and neonatal tetanus—remain endemic, and many countries have fragile health systems that leave immunization programs vulnerable to shocks.
Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunization to be presented to African Heads of State
In June 2016, His Excellency Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopiawill present the Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunization to the African Heads of States at the 26th Summit of the African Union. Support from heads of state will further empower countries to increase efforts to mobilize resources for national immunization programs.
The declaration commits countries to increasing domestic financial investments in order to deliver routine immunizations and roll out new vaccines. The economic benefits of immunization are proven to greatly outweigh the costs, with recent research showing the benefits of preventing illness and lost productivity to be 16 times greater than the required investment in vaccines.
“We all agree that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective solutions in global health. Investing in immunization programs will enable African countries to see an outstanding economic benefit,” said Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the Gavi Board and former Finance Minister of Nigeria. “If we can ensure that all African children can access life-saving vaccines, no matter where they are born, we will have a golden opportunity to create a more prosperous future for communities across our continent.”
As Ministerial Conference closes, new momentum builds for countries to prioritize immunization
The Ministerial Conference convened hundreds of political leaders, technical experts and advocates from across Africa and globally. The conference offered African policymakers and advocates a platform to celebrate progress toward expanding immunization coverage; discuss strategies for tackling the biggest challenges facing vaccine efforts; foster country ownership for sustainable financing for immunization; and advocate for greater engagement with all stakeholders to ensure sustainable demand for immunization.
“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,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Now, we will carry this momentum forward from Addis Ababa, stay accountable to our commitments and close the immunization gap once and for all.”
“With the right mix of political will, financial resources and technical acumen, Africa is positioned to make an incredible leap in immunization coverage,” said Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “Today is a first step in a journey that will take us to the last mile to reach every child with the vaccines they need.”
Ethiopia’s unique health extension program, which banks heavily on community participation, and has recorded successes in increasing the reach of routine immunization even in remote settlements, was shared during a panel discussion during the conference. In the Ethiopian Health Extension Program, immunization is part of the health extension package that health extension workers and the health development army bring to the doorsteps of households across the country. This has increased immunization coverage.