The Minister of Health, H.E. Ms. Amina Nurhussien opened the three-day annual Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI) Managers meeting for East and Southern Africa (ESA) in Asmara in 18 March 2019, where over 240 participants from 20 countries and immunization partners are joining efforts to strengthen immunization service delivery in the region .
In her opening remarks, the Minister of Health stated that Eritrea was experiencing a new era, which ushered opportunities for collaboration and development within the region. She applauded the political will and commitment of the Government of the State of Eritrea to invest and ensure high national immunization coverage in the country. She highlighted that the forum was a platform to exchange idea to improve health outcomes for the population and especially for children.
H.E. Ms. Nurhussien, added that vaccination is one of the most cost-effective interventions with minimum investment which averts life-long disability and that countries should allocate national budgets for universal immunization coverage. To achieve this, Eritrea has worked with regional and international partners to control vaccine preventable diseases and attained 98 per cent national coverage. She also highlighted that Eritrea received two outstanding awards for high and sustained immunization coverage and outstanding achievement in Effective Vaccine Stock management from Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative and UNICEF East and Southern Africa Regional Office respectively.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti applauded ESA countries for addressing inequities in immunization through the adoption of Reach Every District approach. She congratulated Eritrea and Rwanda for having done remarkably well in sustaining high coverage for EPI Services.
Dr. Pierre Ngom, UNICEF Representative to Eritrea in his address to the participants, underscored the important findings of the recently conducted Effective Vaccine Management Assessment in the country, highlighting that the country had scored highly as they had done in other assessments. He added that the current country's cold chain capacity was well established and could handle new vaccines including Meningitis 'A' which will be introduced this year.
In her remarks, Dr. Josephine Namboze, WHO Representative to Eritrea commended the commitment and political leadership in the country for ensuring that all children in the country receive lifesaving vaccines. She also highlighted that Eritrea had developed strategies to ensure the attainment of the Universal Health Coverage and was finalizing the Integrated Package of Essential Health Services.
Speaking at the same occasion, Ms. Susan Ngongi, Resident Coordinator of the UN in Eritrea commended Eritrea's political will and commitment to make immunization services accessible to all communities, including the hard to reach. She added that in view of the peace development in the region, the country needed to implement cross-border disease prevention and control activities with neighbouring countries to minimize disease transmission.
All speakers pointed to the fact that despite the high immunization coverage in most countries in the ESA region, there were still a large number of children who were not reached with vaccines. They called for concerted joint efforts from both governments and partners to reach the unreached with vaccines by implementing strategies such as the Reaching Every District Approach.
"Governments and development partners need to continue supporting immunization and other child health interventions in order to speed up the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals on reducing child mortality to no more than 20 per 1000 live births by the year 2030. This will mark real progress in development. On its part, Eritrea is committed to attain the SDGs as it did with MDGs and will continue to invest in systems strengthening to ensure Universal Health coverage with limited financial burden to the communities," said H.E. Ms. Nurhussien. In her conclusion, she expressed her gratitude and extended her respect to those who made the decision to host the regional meeting in Eritrea.
The meeting will cover a wide range of topics directed by the Regional Strategic Immunization Plan for the years 2014 - 2020 and will lay the roadmap for the effective and efficient implementation of immunization programmes in the region.