Roselyne Sachiti recently in ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
Health ministers and their representatives from 20 African countries last week 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 was signed at the close of the first ever Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa held between February 24 and 25 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will present the Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunisation to the African Heads of States at the 26th Summit of the African Union in June this year.
Former Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete who is also GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance’s goodwill ambassador for immunisation, stressed the need for African governments to go beyond just making important declarations, but implement them and stay on track of their set goals.
GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunisation in less developed countries.
Giving his keynote address at the Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa, Mr. Kikwete said in the past, several conferences have deliberated on the importance of universal immunisation in Africa and the world.
“African Ministers of Health who attended the World Health Assembly in Geneva in 2012 came up with the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP).
“At their meeting in Luanda, Angola in April 2014, the Ministers of Health made a commitment on Universal Health Coverage in Africa.
“When they met again in Abuja, Nigeria in May 2014, they adopted the ‘Immunise Africa 2020 Declaration’.
“At the AU Summit in Johannesburg in June 2015, African Heads of State adopted a Declaration on Polio Eradication in Africa. Again, today, at this Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa here in Addis Ababa you are going to adopt another declaration! Important as these declarations may be, the most important thing is implementation.
Let us come out of this conference with strong resolve for resolute action,” he said.
Mr. Kikwete said some progress reports on the ground were not pleasing.
“I am making this assertion because as indicated by the 2014 Global Vaccine Action Plan Report, implementation of the universal access to immunisation by 2020 agenda as envisaged by the Global Vaccine Action Plan, is largely off track.
“Much as progress has been encouraging in some respect, but it is not enough.
“Indeed, in the WHO African region, government spending on routine immunisation per live birth has increased by 43 percent since 2010 (from $4.80 to $5.60).
“Share of vaccine expenditure financed by governments has increased from 51 percent to 57 percent with only 15 African countries’ funding being at least 50 percent of the national immunisation expenditure.
“In this regard, it is fair to ask ourselves the following questions: Are we doing enough? Is this all that we can do? Will another declaration change the situation for the better? What difference can this conference make? How can we make a difference coming out of this room today?” he said.
Mr. Kikwete also said Africa should come up with pertinent proposals and ideas on how to achieve access to immunisation for every child, everywhere, regardless of gender or social and financial status of their families nor part of the country or ethnic group they belong.
He said if the continent is to realise “the African century” and secure its future, as envisioned in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, there is need to settle for nothing less than a continent where no child dies from preventable diseases.
“You will all agree with me that across the regions and at continental level, there is ample evidence that Africa is on the rise. Nowadays, discussion around ‘Africa Rising’ is no empty talk.
However, beneath this positive story lies a disturbing reality that one in every five children in Africa still does not receive some basic vaccines,” Mr. Kikwete said.
“In other words, these children are more likely to die before their fifth birthday. And if they survive they are less likely to grow into healthy and optimally productive citizens. They have, simply, been deprived of a strong foundation for a bright future,” he said.
He said a change of mindset was an important element to help in transforming universalisation of immunisation from being a mere health agenda and become a development and political agenda.
“For Africa to achieve sustainable Universal Immunisation Coverage in Africa, national ownership and government leadership are key. We can only achieve this goal if every government will be dedicated and diligently work towards achieving universal access within its country of jurisdiction. And, for this to happen having a correct vision, strong leadership and political will are critical,” he said.
Mr. Kikwete also praised all governments in Africa for their efforts to realise universal immunisation in their respective countries.
“It is important to appreciate Africa’s capacity limitations and predicaments which impede meeting all the needs that immunisation demands.”
He said partnerships were a crucial factor in enabling African countries with limited capacities to realise the goal of Universal Immunisation by the year 2020.
Already partnerships have made it possible to increase routine immunisation coverage of the three basic vaccines of Diphtheria-Tetenus-Pertusis (DTP-3) from 57 percent in 2000 to 80 percent in 2014. With continued partnership, therefore, the objective will be realised. After all, attaining universal immunisation in Africa is a global responsibility and not that of African countries alone.
“Let me use the example of my country Tanzania. Being underdeveloped, (and) with limited capacity, if left to ourselves, it would have taken us a long time to register the success we are talking about today.
The collaboration and support from partners like WHO, GAVI, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, our bilateral and multilateral partners and others has been a game changer,” he said.