Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa launches the African Vaccination Week (AVW) in Lusaka, Zambia under the theme “Vaccination, a gift for life”. This event marks the commencement of week-long immunization activities from 24 to 30 April across all 47 countries in the WHO African Region.
Immunization is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions but many children and adults still do not have access to many life-saving vaccines. It is estimated that about three million children under the age of five years die each year in the African Region and a significant number of these deaths could be prevented by receiving immunizations.
The AVW is designed to strengthen public awareness and demand for immunization by communities, improve access for high-risk populations and hard-to-reach areas in the Region and advocate for mobilization of resources for immunization. It also provides an opportunity to increase demand and utilization for other lifesaving interventions particularly those targeting women and children under five.
In remarks delivered on her behalf by Dr Jacob Mufunda, WHO Representative to Zambia at the AVW commemoration, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti noted that vaccination is a gift that protects people of all ages against life-threatening diseases and underscored the urgent need for multisectoral collaboration to adopt locally-tailored approaches to maximize accessibility and utilization of immunization services.
“Countries and stakeholders must raise the awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases, address barriers to vaccination, and make substantial and sustained additional investments to strengthen health systems and achieve universal immunization coverage by 2020″, said Dr Moeti.
All countries in the African Region were urged to make efforts to reach all children during this AVW with special emphasis on children of vaccine-hesitant parents, geographically hard-to-reach areas and conflict zones. Dr Moeti applauded most families and parents for participating in country specific immunization schedules and prioritizing the overall health and wellbeing of their children, but increased awareness of the benefits of immunization is still needed at the community level, during this week and beyond.
Diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia are two of the most common causes of death in African children. WHO recommends the use of rotavirus and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) as an important measure to reduce deaths due to severe rotavirus-associated diarrhoea and pneumonia. Zambia introduced the rotavirus vaccine and PCV in 2013 in the framework of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD).
Measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, yellow fever, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, pneumonia and cervical cancer caused by human papillomavirus are also preventable diseases through vaccination. It is therefore important for parents to present their infants and children including adolescents for all routine vaccinations as scheduled.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa will continue to work with governments and stakeholders to strengthen health systems in order to attain universal immunization coverage and protect everyone’s fundamental human right to health.