Statement by H.E. Minata Samate Cessouma, Commissioner, Health, Humanitarian Affairs, and Social Development on the occasion of the 2022 African Vaccination Week Theme: “Long Life for all” Advocating for unvaccinated children, in Africa
This year’s African Vaccination Week (AVW) from 24th to 30th April, under the theme ‘Long Life for all’, comes as the continent continues to fight against COVID-19, reduce the impact it’s had on lives, and livelihoods and encourage communities to get vaccinated.
As health systems adjust to operating in the pandemic era, countries across the continent are also strengthening efforts to maintain routine immunisation programmes for children and adolescents and reach those that are furthest behind.
Routine vaccinations are an important element within strong and functional health systems. Starting from birth, vaccinations against diseases like tetanus, polio, pentavalent, and measles by the child’s first birthday are recommended by WHO. These vaccines protect children and the communities that they are born into from life-threatening diseases.
Regrettably, there are millions of children yet to be reached with a single dose of basic routine vaccines despite ongoing immunisation programmes – these children are referred to as “zero-dose”.
Currently, there are an estimated 12.4 million children in lower-income countries that don’t receive any routine vaccines every year.
These zero-dose children represent 13% of the population yet they account for nearly half of all children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases. The number of zero-dose children in Africa is also projected to rise to about 15 million by 2030, if current trends continue.
Zero-dose children are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet as they are easily prone to preventable life-threatening diseases. The key challenge is in low-income countries where there is also lack of access to clean water, balanced diets, and affordable healthcare. The theme “Long Life for All” underpins the need to prioritize these marginalized communities to ensure that no child is left unvaccinated, whether they are girls, refugees or people living in remote communities.
The African Union Agenda 2063 aspiration one sets out a vision to achieve health-related targets for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development and healthy and well-nourished citizens. In accordance with the Addis Declaration on Immunisation (ADI) endorsed by the African Heads of State at the 28th African Union (AU) Summit 2017 (Assembly/AU/Dec.624 (XXVIII), member states are expected to increase political, financial and technical investments in Immunisation programs that can accelerate progress toward achieving universal access to Immunisation in Africa. Subsequently, the Commission in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi the Vaccine Alliance developed the continental immunisation scorecard to track progress of member states in the implementation of the Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunisation.
The Maputo Plan of Action further calls for the health system to function by optimizing and improving human resources for Reproductive, Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) through the expansion of access to Immunisation. The African Union Commission responds to this call through the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA).
Furthermore, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has worked closely with countries to introduce and scale up vaccination coverage in low- and middle-income countries, is now putting a much stronger focus on reaching the most marginalized by strengthening primary healthcare systems, building and sustaining community demand, and addressing gender barriers. Increasing vaccination coverage will prevent disease outbreaks and help save lives. Countries in Africa are encouraged to set country-specific targets towards a larger goal of reducing the number of zero-dose children across the world by 25% by 2025, and by 50% by 2030.
African Union member states may have different approaches to scaling up vaccinations and reaching zero-dose children, but if they address the needs of communities and are tailored to the contexts where these zero-dose children live, they will be of significant value and will help generate impact. I encourage all African countries to make this a priority; because now more than ever is the time to make sure all our children receive the full benefits of vaccination.