Africa May Lose U.S.$22.4 Billion to Poor Disease Surveillance

22 November 2019

Abuja — World Health Organisation (WHO) has said countries in Africa may likely suffer drastic consequences including $22.4 billion economic burden over the next decade if nothing was done to push up Vaccine-Preventable Disease (VPD) surveillance in the African Region between 2020 and 2030.

WHO, however, said an investment of $470 million over the next one decade could save over 700,000 lives, prevent 20 million people from falling ill to vaccine-preventable diseases, and save $21 billion over the next 10 years.

The global organisation, in its newly launched Investment Case for Vaccine-Preventable Disease Surveillance in the African Region, 2020-2030, said there's need for countries to invest in disease surveillance efforts to avert health crisis.

This was disclosed at a high-level "Reaching the Last Mile Forum" in Abu Dhabi on November 19 by the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.

WHO, in a statement yesterday, said VPD surveillance was a critical component of the integrated disease control strategies, describing early surveillance as an effective way to detect and respond early to outbreaks and mitigate their impact on national security, the local economy and public health systems.

"Yet countries in the African Region still face major challenges in both the strategic planning and operation of their surveillance systems," the statement noted.

WHO also called for increased domestic investment in VPD surveillance, under the overall umbrella of integrated disease surveillance and response, from countries in the African region.

The statement noted that resources for VPD surveillance have declined remarkably over the past two years, just as domestic surveillance expenditure in the African region remains low - funding for disease surveillance was urgently needed, now more than ever.

Speaking at the launching, Moeti called on governments in Africa to invest in strong disease surveillance systems that "will ensure early detection and response to risks and outbreaks.

According to him, "Strong surveillance is the backbone of a functioning health information system, empowering health workers with timely, quality evidence to inform decision-making.

"In order to curb the spread of life-threatening diseases, governments must invest in strong and functioning surveillance systems."

With the African region on the brink of polio eradication, VPD surveillance remains an issue yet to be prioritised by many health leaders.

The Investment Case indicated that if current disease surveillance efforts were not maintained, there's a risk to reverse progress made, leading to more than 900,000 deaths.

"The fact that most countries in the African region continue to rely on external funding for VPD surveillance is a strong indicator of the work that remains to be done.

"Governments have a central role to play to fill upcoming funding gaps and ensure immunisation programmes and surveillance remains strong and vigilant," said the Programme Manager for Immunization and Vaccine Development at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Richard Mihigo.

The Investment Case outlined WHO's ambition for progress by 2030, including the need for increased domestic investment for surveillance activities as well as mobilisation of international resources in order to ensure strong disease surveillance.

At least $470 million in operating costs would be needed over the next decade to reach this ambition, WHO predicted, noting that the investment would save over 700,000 lives, prevent 20 million people from falling ill due to vaccine-preventable diseases, and save $21 billion over 10 years - estimated to be a 44.6-fold return on investment.

"Despite extraordinary progress boosting vaccine coverage around the world in the past two decades, one and a half million people are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases every year.

"Our biggest challenge in reducing the horrific toll these diseases still cause is finding the children who are still missing out on vaccines. That's why improved vaccine-preventable disease surveillance systems are so important, helping health authorities to identify the areas where immunisation coverage is weakest and protect those children who are currently being left behind," said CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Dr. Seth Berkley.

The world health body said a private sector firm has already pledged $5 million over the next five years, beginning from 2020 to support and strengthen VPD surveillance efforts in the African region.

Director of Global Health at the UN Foundation, Elizabeth Ivanovich, expressed the hope that this pledge in support of the VPD surveillance investment case would be catalytic and would encourage other traditional and non-traditional donors to consider this critical area of work, including how the private sector and governments could work closely together to successfully bridge funding gaps.

Director of the Centre for Global Health at the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rebecca Martin, also expressed her support, saying "CDC is strongly committed to global health security, helping to strengthen health systems that can prevent avoidable epidemics, detect threats early, and respond rapidly to outbreaks."

At the African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa in January 2017, African Heads of State endorsed the Addis Declaration on Immunisation (ADI), pledging to ensure that everyone in Africa - regardless of who they are or where they live - received the full benefits of immunisation, and committing to increase political and financial investments in their immunisation programmes.

Commitment 5 of the ADI outlined the need for "attaining and maintaining high quality surveillance for targeted vaccine-preventable diseases." Although member states have endorsed these commitments and pledged to deliver on universal immunisation coverage and high-quality surveillance, there were still challenges in achieving immunisation and surveillance targets.


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