25 February 2016

Africa: Investing in Immunization Pays Off Economically - Premier

Photo: © Shryock/UNICEF
(file photo)

Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn said now is the time for African governments to redouble efforts and commitment to build strong, sustainable and inclusive immunization system. The first ever Ministerial Conference on Immunization kicked off at the African Union Conference Hall here yesterday.

In his opening statement, Prime Minister Hailemariam said investing in immunization pays off not just in saving precious lives but economically as well. For every Dollar, every Birr, every Franc invested in vaccination programmes, 16 children will be saved in reduced treatment costs for our health systems and increased productivity in our economies. That is increasingly impressive dividend for the society. Frankly, we can't afford not to invest in universal access to immunization.

"We are expected to reach all African children with today's life saving vaccines." Without comprehensive immunization programmes, Africa undermines future generations exposing them to preventable disease and perpetuating a vicious cycle where families, communities and nations have to induce to challenging situation. Thus, African governments in close collaboration with civil society, the private sector and other stake holders redouble efforts and commitments to build strong, sustainable and inclusive immunization systems, he added.

Since the launching of the first national immunization programme 36 years ago, Ethiopia has, in partnership with advocacy organizations, other stakeholders, international agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, GAVI and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, made tremendous stride in expanding access to life saving vaccines for our children, the Premier said. "By 2014, we achieved 77 per cent immunization coverage and in recent years building on this progress, we have introduced a number of important new vaccines in Ethiopia."

WHO Director General Margaret Chan in a video message also said that in Africa, universal access to immunization is a nation-building strategy. Immunization saves lives and money. "We can do even more to improve the benefit of vaccines. Current national budgets for immunization are inadequate. Countries can apt their immunization programmes on a path to long term sustainability by increasing domestic investments. A clear mechanism for monitoring and accountability are needed to track without domestic return on investments and adjust strategies as needed. Universal access to immunization is a way to better health for children and economy."

African Union Commission Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma through her representative said that high level political support at country and continental level will be critical. Minsters should play critical role in expanding immunization across the continent. The AUC called upon African health minsters to take the lead in advocating and scaling up immunization programmes in their irrespective countries. By raising awareness of the importance of vaccines, we can further tackle some of the biggest challenges in implementing immunization programmes including strengthening the supply chain, engaging communities to combat misconceptions and reaching vulnerable children in the most remote areas, she added.

WHO Regional Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti on her part said that vaccines are a major factor for the decline in the rate of child death in sub Saharan Africa by 54 percent between 1990 and 2015. "We need to stand vigilant in polio eradication efforts so that the African region would be officially declared polio free next year."

She also said that countries around the world have committed to the global vaccine action plan. The framework of access to immunization for every child, everywhere should be applied. "And yet, our continent is still off track to reach five out of the six Global Vaccination Action Plan (GVA) goals. Because, health system in Africa is under-resourced and under-equipped to reach all children with vaccine. And all often, weak health system are under further strain by armed conflicts, natural disasters and the emergence of new health challenges Ebola and Zika outbreaks."

Moeti said: "We have to build our health systems which in turn will enable us to achieve universal access to immunization in the African region. And governments renew commitments and reaffirm that universal access to immunization is the cornerstone for health and development."

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