Roselyne Sachiti in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
African countries have been called upon to remain vigilant in polio eradication efforts so that the continent can be officially certified polio-free come 2017. Addressing delegates at the official opening of the first-ever Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa, here, yesterday, World Health Organisation Africa Region Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said to secure a polio-free future, African countries should take several important steps.
“This includes introducing the inactivated polio vaccine into routine immunisation programmes, and preparing to switch from using trivalent oral polio vaccine to the bivalent oral polio vaccine in order to boost immunity and protect children from all types of polio.
“At the same time, countries must prepare for the eventual decrease of donor support. This means capturing the lessons learned from decades of polio eradication efforts and ensuring the infrastructure created by this work is transitioned into ongoing public health programs, including our capacity to detect and contain outbreaks of other diseases.
“This is not only to keep Africa polio-free, but to also provide broad benefits to children’s health for generations to come. It is because of the polio program that we are better able to reach all children with vaccines — whether that be through a stronger cold chain systems or trained health workers. Now we must take steps to develop transition plans and ensure this great infrastructure isn’t lost.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity — here, today — at this first-ever Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa, to make the commitments that will ensure we achieve universal access to immunisation across the continent by 2020,” she said.
Dr Moeti expressed optimism about Africas ability to succeed in this campaign.
She said in less than a generation, Africa made tremendous gains in increasing access to immunisation and driving down child deaths.
Vaccines are a major reason that the rate of child deaths across Sub-Saharan Africa plummeted by 54 percent from 1990 to 2015.
“That is a stunning statistic — one we should all be proud of. Effective new vaccines for pneumonia and rotavirus, the two leading infectious killers of children, are being rolled out in many African countries.
“And we can also point to great successes in the fight against polio and meningitis.
“Let’s look at polio. Just several years ago, polio threatened the future of millions of children across Africa. Today, thanks to international partnerships, well-designed immunisation campaigns, and the tireless efforts of health workers, local communities and national governments, the continent has not had a case of wild polio virus in more than a year and a half.
“This is a historic milestone and a critical step toward a polio-free world, but the job is not yet done,” she said.
She added that great strides have been made in the fight against meningitis.
“Through an innovative partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as African Ministries of Health, WHO, PATH and Gavi, the groundbreaking MenAfriVac® vaccine was designed specifically to meet the needs of Africa’s “meningitis belt.”
This vaccine has nearly eliminated meningitis group A in the countries where it has been introduced.