African Conferees Back Universal Access to Vaccinations

"Our children are our most precious resource, yet one in five fail to receive all the immunizations they need to survive and thrive, leaving millions vulnerable to preventable disease," said Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, minister of Health for Ethiopia. "This is not acceptable."

Ministers of health from many African countries agreed Feb. 25 at a Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa on a declaration to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against vaccine-preventable diseases and to close the continent's immunization gap by 2020. The conference took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was hosted by the World Health Organization's Regional Offices for Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, in conjunction with the African Union Commission. It was the first-ever ministerial-level gathering focused entirely on ensuring that children in Africa can get access to life-saving vaccines, according to WHO.

"Our children are our most precious resource, yet one in five fail to receive all the immunizations they need to survive and thrive, leaving millions vulnerable to preventable disease," said Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, minister of Health for Ethiopia. "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."

A report issued at the conference indicated routine immunization coverage has increased considerably across Africa since 2000 and measles deaths fell by 86 percent between 2000 and 2014, so the introduction of new vaccines has been judged to be a major success. But 20 percent of Africa's do not receive all of the most basic vaccines they need; measles, rubella, and neonatal tetanus remain endemic, and many countries have fragile health systems that leave immunization programs vulnerable, the report found.

The signed declaration commits countries to increasing their financial investment to deliver routine immunizations and roll out new vaccines. "We all agree that vaccines are one of the most cost-effective solutions in global health. Investing in immunization programs will enable African countries to see an outstanding economic benefit," said Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chair of the Gavi Board and former finance minister of Nigeria. "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."

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