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African health ministers to meet on immunisation

By Catherine Mwesigwa Kizza

Added 8th February 2016 08:26 AM

The conference will bring together other line ministers of finance, education, gender and youth to broaden the scope of different stakeholders to discuss the issue.

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A nurse immunizing a child against the polio virus

The conference will bring together other line ministers of finance, education, gender and youth to broaden the scope of different stakeholders to discuss the issue.

Forty years since the launch of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), African health ministers will, at the end of this month, meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the first ever ministerial conference on immunisation.

Hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and African Union (AU), the conference will bring together other line ministers of finance, education, gender and youth to broaden the scope of different stakeholders to discuss the issue.

When it was established, the EPI first targeted to immunise children against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis and measles as a means to achieve the global target of health for all by the year 2000.

“Today most countries in the region now have 10 to 13 antigens within the EPI vaccines,” Dr Richard Mihigo, the Programme Manager, Immunisation Vaccination Development Programme WHO Africa, told a media teleconference ahead of the meeting on Thursday.

Mihigo noted that Africa had made strides to improve immunisation and that child mortality had declined.

According to WHO, sub Saharan Africa’s annual rate of under-five mortality reduction increased from 1.6% in 1990s to 4.1% in 2000–2015. Consequently, the lives of 48 million children under age 5 have been saved since 2000.

Another report, Levels and trends in child mortality2015, states that Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Liberia and Niger all met their Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

Immunisation is one of the cost-effective interventions to prevent some of the life threatening diseases to children. However, according to Mihigo, one in five children in the region have not received the vaccines they need.

In 2000, GAVI, a global vaccine alliance, was formed to increase access to new vaccines in developing countries. This saw the introduction of several new, but more expensive vaccines like Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Pneumococcal and H. Influenza vaccines.

Mihigo said that several countries have rapidly introduced the new vaccines to their populations in the last ten years, increasing vaccine costs dramatically.

“Immunisation costs increased from less than a dollar per child for the six basic Expanded Programme on Immunisation vaccines 40 years ago to 4.8$ to 6$ per child in the region today,” he said.

He also noted that only 15 countries are funding 50% of expenditure of their national immunisation programmes.

The over 500 participants in the ministerial conference are expected to reflect on the past successes but also discuss how member states can increase ownership of their immunisation programmes.

Ahead of the ministerial meeting, the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), a partnership between PATH and the WHO will also celebrate the success of the MenAfriVac mass vaccination campaigns that have helped to break the cycle of meningitis A epidemics in the African Meningitis belt.

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord that is spread through person to person contact.

For years, the disease killed and affected thousands on the continent. Between 1996 and 1997, there were more than 250,000 cases of meningitis and a tenth of them died.

Following the epidemic, African leaders challenged the developed world to develop a vaccine to protect the affected countries against meningitis epidemics in Africa.

Since 2010, more than 217 million people in 16 African countries have received the meningitis vaccine. Recent studies have shown that the vaccine has been a “stunning success” in the countries where it has been rolled out.

 

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