From 23-29 April 2018, the WHO African Region celebrates African Vaccination week (AVW) to raise awareness of the needs and rights of all people, particularly children and women, to be protected from diseases which can be prevented by vaccines.
The awareness drive aims to keep immunization high on national and regional agendas through advocacy and partnerships, and is an opportunity for other high impact measures to improve health, such as vitamin A supplementation, deworming, distribution of impregnated bed nets and others.
This year's theme, "Vaccines work, do your part” highlights that everyone has a role to play to ensure that more people are vaccinated. This is crucial for achieving the target of universal immunization coverage by 2020, thus contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and Universal Health Coverage.
Immunization is widely recognized as one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. It prevents an estimated 800,000 deaths in the African Region every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough),measles, pneumococcus and diarrhoea due to rotavirus. Childhood vaccinations are the building blocks of healthier children and communities.
Vaccines provide benefits beyond health outcomes through savings on medical costs, and increased productivity through reduced time spent by parents and health care workers caring for sick children. These savings can benefit families, communities and nations through economic growth and poverty reduction.
African Vaccination Week is an effective way of reaching people with limited access to regular health services. Held annually since 2011, the initiative has resulted in over 150 million people of all ages being vaccinated, millions receiving Vitamin A and deworming tablets, and about 35 million being screened and treated for malnutrition.
The African Region has made commendable progress towards improving access to vaccines. African Heads of State and Government committed to investing more in immunization services and ensuring vaccination for all by endorsing the Addis Declaration on Immunization (ADI) in 2017.
However, unless this political will is translated into action, the Region will not achieve universal immunization coverage by 2020. Concrete actions are required to ensure that children and other vulnerable people are protected from death and diseases which can be prevented through vaccination.
WHO, the African Union Commission and immunization partners have launched a road map to guide Member States in fulfilling their pledges under the Addis Declaration on Immunization. It outlines how countries can overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities to deliver universal immuni zati on. Strategies include generating and sustaining political will and funding; strengthening capacity and overcoming barriers to access; and closely monitoring progress.
Strong health systems are the foundation for well-functioning immunization programmes. As we observe the 8th AVW , I call on governments, parliamentarians and policy-makers, Civil Society Organisations, communities and all families to break down the barriers to immunization and ensure vaccination for all.
Countries should have a comprehensive and funded plan in line with their national health strategies, to ensure that every person in the African Region is reached with vaccines and additional measures to save lives and promote health.
WHO is dedicated to working with partners to support countries in ensuring universal immunization coverage. Vaccines work; we must all do our part!