African Health Ministers have signed a declaration to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases and to close the immunization gap by 2020.
Signing the declaration after the close of a two-day African Health Ministerial conference on Immunization held in Addis Ababa, the Ministers of Health and other line ministers have committed themselves to also keep immunization at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality, morbidity and disability.
The landmark Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa was held from 24-25 February, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The conference was hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Offices for Africa (AFRO) and the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) in conjunction with the African Union Commission (AUC).
It was the first-ever ministerial-level gathering with a singular focus on ensuring that children across the continent could get access to life-saving vaccines.
In a statement issued and signed by the Regional Communications Adviser, WHO AFRO and copied to the Ghana News Agency in Accra, said the Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunization would be presented to the African Heads of States at the 26th Summit of the African Union by Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia.
The declaration commits countries to increasing domestic financial investments in order to deliver routine immunizations and roll out new vaccines.
The economic benefits of immunization have proven to greatly outweigh the costs, with recent research showing the benefits of preventing illness and lost productivity to be 16 times greater than the required investment in vaccines.
The Ministerial Conference convened hundreds of political leaders, technical experts and advocates from across Africa and globally and offered African policymakers and advocates a platform to celebrate progress toward expanding immunization coverage.
They discussed strategies for tackling the biggest challenges facing vaccine efforts; foster country ownership for sustainable financing for immunization; and advocated for greater engagement with all stakeholders to ensure sustainable demand for immunization.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said; “The Ministerial Conference achieved its goal of uniting leaders from across Africa behind the single goal of reaching every child with the vaccines they need.
“Now, we will carry this momentum forward from Addis Ababa, stay accountable to our commitments and close the immunization gap once and for all,” he said.
Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean also added that; “With the right mix of political will, financial resources and technical acumen, Africa is positioned to make an incredible leap in immunization coverage. Today is a first step in a journey that will take us to the last mile to reach every child with the vaccines they need.”
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the Gavi Board and former Finance Minister of Nigeria, indicated that vaccines were one of the most cost-effective solutions in global health and investing in immunization programmes would enable African countries to witness an outstanding economic benefit.
“If we can ensure that all African children can access life-saving vaccines, no matter where they are born, we will have a golden opportunity to create a more prosperous future for communities across our continent,” he added.
Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, Minister of Health for Ethiopia described children as the most precious resource and yet, one in five fails to receive all the immunizations they needed to survive and thrive, leaving millions vulnerable to preventable disease.
“This is not acceptable. African children’s lives matter. We must work together to ensure the commitments we make in Addis Ababa translate into results,” he added.
A new report issued at the conference paints a mixed picture on vaccine access, delivery systems and immunization equity in Africa. Routine immunization coverage has increased considerably across Africa since 2000, measles deaths declined by 86 per cent between 2000 and 2014, and the introduction of new vaccines has been a major success.
However, one in five children still do not receive all of the most basic vaccines they need, three critical diseases -measles, rubella and neonatal tetanus, which remained endemic, and many countries have fragile health systems that leave immunization programs vulnerable to shocks.
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