PAP declares war on vaccine-preventable diseases Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Roselyne Sachiti Features, Health & Society Editor
A few weeks ago, the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) adopted a resolution on the establishment of an African Parliamentarian Caucus on Immunisation, to drive forward the body’s commitment to ensuring that all children across the continent have access to the vaccines they need.

“Expanding access to immunisation will help lay the foundation for universal health coverage across Africa, a cause which the Pan-African Parliament strongly supports,” said Hon Roger Nkodo Dang, president of the PAP.

Universal health coverage (UHC) has gained significant political momentum across Africa in recent years, with many countries committing to provide access to quality, affordable health care for all by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Political commitment for investing in immunisation is at an all-time high. In 2017, Heads of State from across Africa endorsed the Addis Declaration on Immunisation (ADI) at the African Union Summit — a historic pledge that envisions an Africa where every child, no matter their economic circumstances, has access to life-saving vaccines.

Vaccines are one of the most effective and cost-effective public health interventions available. Yet, one in five children in Africa still does not have access to all the necessary and basic vaccines a child should receive. Every year, more than 30 million children younger than five years in Africa fall sick due to vaccine-preventable diseases. Of them, more than half a million die — representing 56 percent of the global deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases.

“The World Health Organisation welcomes the Pan-African Parliament’s resolution to establish a caucus dedicated to strengthening immunisation across Africa. The high cost of disease outbreaks we have witnessed across the continent — in human suffering and economic damage — points to the urgent need for political leadership and collective action to ensure that everyone across Africa has access to basic health services,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The second ordinary session of the fifth PAP, which took place in Midrand, South Africa, from May 6-17, was also an opportunity for parliamentarians to express their commitment to achieving UHC by 2030 and contribute their perspectives on each country’s unique pathway to attaining health for all.

In September 2019, the UN General Assembly will hold the first-ever UN High-Level Meeting on UHC and vote on a historic political declaration in support of health for all. Subsequently, in October 2019, the Inter-Parliamentary Union is expected to adopt a global parliamentary resolution on achieving UHC by 2030 and the role of parliaments in ensuring the right to health.

Sustained political will and domestic financing for immunisation will be key to drive progress and advance UHC across the African region, in order to achieve the ADI commitments and SDG targets.

There is need to increase sustained domestic investment in immunisation, improving planning and budgeting, resource mobilisation and tracking and reporting immunisation expenditure.

This can be done by ensuring that immunisation gets attention in the national health strategy development and budget planning of countries.

Ensuring access to immunisation services is central to the global movement towards universal health coverage (UHC). Immunisation financing should be considered in the context of broader government health financing policies and approaches to achieving UHC.

As health financing and service delivery arrangements become more complex, countries face the challenge of defining institutional responsibilities for specific immunisation programme functions and ensuring that financial incentives in the system do not disadvantage immunisation services.

Zimbabwe has been at the forefront of promoting immunisation for children since Independence in 1980.

In 1982, the country launched the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (ZEPI) or EPI, whose aim was to make immunisation available to every child by 1990.

This is a high-performing programme that started when the new Government embraced the concept of both primary health care and philosophy to health services delivery.

Almost 80 percent of children below the age of one year were successfully vaccinated by the end of 1990 and WHO estimates that this prevented more than 80 000 deaths of under-fives every year.

Keeping its promise, during this year’s Africa Vaccination Week, which runs in the third week of April, Government intensified efforts in measles vaccination coverage.

Government and its donor partners intensified efforts in six-low performing districts which required an increase in measles vaccination coverage to at least 90 percent (elimination requires sustained 95 percent coverage).

In hard to reach areas, the Ministry of Health, with partners, last year piloted Vitamin A supplementation through Village Health Workers. This removed the geographical barrier faced by many mothers who failed to bring their children for Vitamin A supplementation.

Immunisation is effective. The results on the ground show how the world is one step closer to becoming polio-free. As a result of immunisation, the world is closer than ever before to eradicating polio. Since 1988, 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated against polio, and the number of polio cases has fallen by more than 99 percent, reaching a record low of just 22 cases in 2017.

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