Africa makes progress reducing Child deaths using Vaccines

Accra, With the use of vaccines, child deaths in Africa have been reduced by 80 per cent since 1990, Dr Orin Levine, Director of Vaccine Delivery, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has said on Friday.

It is incredible that African countries, in less than a generation, have rid itself of smallpox and epidemic meningitis using vaccines and polio is nearly gone from every last corner.

Dr. Levine in an interview with the Ghana News Agency said it was incredible that African countries, in less than a generation, have again made tremendous gains in increasing access to immunization and driving down child deaths.

The progress he said was encouraging, but there was still a lot to accomplish and though after big gains, immunization levels were stagnating.

One in five children across Africa still misses out on getting all the basic immunizations, whether it is because of lack of funding or accessibility in remote areas. Missing the mark by nearly 20 percent is unacceptable. We owe future generations more.

He noted Immunization was one of the best investments the Foundation could make to save and improve the lives of children.

It’s safe, protective and a great investment in our communities. Each $1 invested in childhood vaccines returns $44 in economic and social benefits by reducing the costs of illness and suffering and by helping healthy individuals contribute to the economy, he added.

He noted that the continent had also made outstanding progress in getting more vaccines to more children but the continent was behind in meeting the Regional Immunisation Strategic Plan (RISP) targets.

However, while many challenges remain, African countries have proven that they can succeed and there are reasons to be optimistic that Africa will meet the RISP targets, he added.

Dr Levine leads the Foundation’s efforts to accelerate the introduction of new vaccines and related technologies to improve routine immunization systems. He is the Foundation’s focal point for engagement with the GAVI Alliance whose mission is saving children’s lives by increasing access to immunization in poor countries.

To mark Africa this year’s Vaccination Week, which is an annual event celebrated by countries across the region on the theme; Vaccines Protect Everyone, Get Vaccinated, Dr Levine said the celebration coincides with the 1st anniversary of the Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa and the ground-breaking Addis Declaration on Immunization (ADI).

It is also the halfway point of the Regional Immunisation Strategic Plan (RISP) which aims to reach universal access to immunisation by 2020.

He praised Ghana for being the first African country to introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines at the same time, simultaneously tackling the leading causes of the world’s two biggest childhood killers, pneumonia and diarrhea, on April 26, 2012.

Ghana’s leadership on this dual-introduction paved the way for other African and Asian countries to follow suit, he added.

He called on other African countries to learn from the encouraging success stories of other countries for the continent to thrive, both in terms of lives saved and growth realized.

Ghana he said had also benefits from a very high coverage rates for its basic vaccines with 80-90 percent of childhood coverage, adding that, We want to see a world where every child and every mother has the protection that comes from receiving each and every vaccine so there is still more to do.

Dr Levine outlined under resourced health systems, absence of dialogue and partnership, supply chains and logistics, inaccurate and unreliable data coupled with the strained conflict and natural disasters, as some of the challenges impeding the success of the work.

He commended Ghana for the strong partnership between communities and their local health workers, adding, Vaccination programmes work best when health workers, traditional leaders, and parents are all actively involved and understand the value of vaccines and the importance of bringing kids in on time.

He explained that by working together with governments, communities, religious and business leaders, volunteers and NGOS, parents could open up more, dialogue more about polio and even make more informed decisions.

He called the need to tackle issue of delivering of vaccines to help health workers protect more children, adding, and Vaccines work best when they are kept cold, not frozen through every step of the journey from the factory to the cooler in even the most remote health clinic.

Dr Levine noted that in remote areas without reliable refrigeration systems where maintaining precise temperature ranges could be challenging, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was working with its partners to constantly use innovations to overcome the challenge.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the leading edge of innovation in science and technology is being used to improve the way we keep vaccines safe and potent even in the hottest places or when electricity is missing or unpredictable.

New coolers and refrigerators that use solar power are becoming available for Ghana and many other African countries through support from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. Some of these innovations are using super engineered thermos technology to keep vaccines cold, without power, for over a month even in the hottest climates.

He called for accurate, high-quality data on where and how vaccines were successfully delivered, saying, and The most useful data for long-term, widespread, and sustained delivery of vaccines is sub national data. While it’s useful to know the coverage rate for a whole country, there’s a lot that national data can’t tell you.

Source: Ghana News Agency