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WHO-Africa- Immunization in Africa: Progress made – but it’s time to up the game

Dakar, 14 December 2016 – Immunization experts have called for concrete actions to stem the tide of vaccine preventable diseases in the WHO African Region. The call came from the African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group (RITAG) which concluded its 2-day meeting on 14 December 2016 in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss the state of immunization in the region. The RITAG serves as the principal advisory group to the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, on regional immunization policies and programmes.

The group noted that while Africa has made tremendous gains towards increasing access to immunization in the last 15 years, progress has stagnated, leaving one in five of African children without access to life-saving vaccines. As a result, vaccine-preventable diseases still claim too many lives. Measles alone accounts for approximately 61,000 preventable deaths in the region every year.

“We know that immunization is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions and that ensuring universal access can drive real progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. We’ve made good progress – but now is the time to up our game,” said Hon Dr Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Senegal’s Minister of Health and Social Action, who delivered opening remarks at the RITAG meeting. “Senegal is proud to have hosted this important meeting, aimed at ensuring that all children across Africa have access to the vaccines they need to survive and thrive”.

Over the course of the meeting, RITAG members explored a range of pressing issues, including the recent yellow fever epidemic in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; progress towards eliminating measles, rubella and maternal and neonatal tetanus; as well as polio eradication efforts, including planning for adequate, uninterrupted financing of immunization services once eradication programs ramp down. The RITAG members noted three key themes across their discussions:

  • The need to better understand drivers of stagnating progress in immunization coverage trends
  • Integration of immunization services into the broader health systems strengthening agenda
  • The importance of increasing community-level engagement

“The conversations showed that we have all the tools to make sure every child in our countries has a healthy start in life,” said Dr Deo Nshimirimana, WHO Country Representative for Senegal. “If we continue our work in earnest, I am sure we will be able to make greater progress in the upcoming years.”

At the end of the two-day meeting, RITAG Chair Professor Helen Rees presented the committee’s draft recommendations to advance the immunization agenda in the region, for the WHO Regional Director’s consideration. The RITAG members will reconvene in six months to evaluate progress and reassess their recommendations.

“RITAG has discussed some of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing immunization programs across Africa, and we have developed a game plan that can take our collective efforts to the next level,” said Professor Rees. “I am confident that, together, we can make tremendous progress toward ensuring universal access to immunization in the coming years.” 

In February 2016, ministers from 49 African countries signed the Addis Declaration on Immunization, which includes 10 commitments aimed at ensuring all children in Africa receive the full benefits of immunization. WHO, in collaboration with key partners, are currently developing a roadmap to guide the implementation of this declaration.

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For more information, please contact:
Dr Richard Mihigo, Regional Immunization & Vaccine Development Coordinator:
E-mail: mihigor@who.int; Tel: +47-241-39926.
C. Boakye-Agyemang, Acting Regional Communications Adviser:  Boakyeagyemangc@who.int Tel: +47-241-39420.

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