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African Heads of State support new routine immunisation declaration revamp

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African Heads of State have endorsed a declaration on “Building momentum for routine immunization recovery in Africa” intending to revitalize the momentum for all populations to have universal access to immunization to reduce mortality, morbidity, and disability.

As key measures to revamp routine immunisation across the continent, the declaration is expected to help Member States to achieve their health SDGs and economic and development goals.

A total of 8.4 million children in the African region suffered massive disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic that interrupted childhood vaccination programs and heightened outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in 2021, according to estimates by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation.

Announcing the declaration at a high-level event on the sidelines of the 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa, the leaders also called for urgent measures to “address persistent bottlenecks in vaccine and healthcare delivery systems, especially in the poorest, vulnerable and most marginalized communities.

The declaration urges countries to keep immunization front and centre as they recover from COVID-19 and immunize all children who have not yet been protected. The heads of state also called for countries to act quickly to galvanize support for the last-mile polio eradication efforts and use the lessons learnt from the polio immunization programme to boost routine immunization capacities across the continent.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said, “Immunizations save lives and is one of the best health investments that money can buy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on immunization efforts in Africa and has made it critical for us to catch up, recover and get back to normal.”

In Africa, vaccine-preventable diseases are responsible for 93 percent of ongoing infectious disease outbreaks. Currently, vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks are ongoing in 31 African countries, with 17 having more than one vaccine-preventable disease outbreak. Without renewed political will and immediate, intensified efforts, it is estimated that immunization coverage will not return to 2019 levels until 2027.

“Children who were missed by immunization services are more likely to also experience limited or no access to health, nutrition, education, and other social services,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“With strong political will and increased investment in essential services for children, including immunization, we can accelerate progress towards the Immunization Agenda 2030, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the global Sustainable Development Goals 2030 to ensure a healthier, safer, and more prosperous Africa for its children and for all.”

The “Building momentum for routine immunization recovery in Africa” declaration also aims to reignite the continent’s commitment to meet the goals of the Immunization Agenda 2030, a new global strategy to address the challenges of immunization and save more than 50 million lives worldwide.

The declaration, at the event convened by the African Union Commission for Health, Humanitarian Affairs, and Social Development, the Government of Sierra Leone, and the World Health Organization (WHO), called on African regional economic communities, WHO, and the African Development Bank to support the initiative. It also urged vaccine manufacturers to improve access to doses and the UNICEF and WHO to support countries to monitor progress towards the immunization goals. “

Recalling the Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunisation endorsed by Heads of State at the 28th African Union Summit, Africa’s leaders hold a mandate to secure sustainable financing toward increasing access to immunization and work with communities to strengthen immunization systems across the continent. We can end vaccine-preventable diseases and save many more lives. This is core to achieving healthy, prosperous communities as premised in the AU Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.”

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