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WHO: Africa has made remarkable vaccination progress, more can be done

A new WHO report has highlighted Africa’s vaccination triumphs. Despite gaps, ongoing country-level initiatives underscore the urgency of tackling preventable diseases head-on.

SPECIAL REPORT | BIRD AGENCY | As the 2024 World Immunization Week comes to a close, a recent WHO report has highlighted Africa’s remarkable advancements in vaccine accessibility.

According to the report, an estimated 51.2 million lives have been saved through vaccines on the continent over the past five decades.

“For every infant life saved over that period, close to 60 years of life are lived,” a press statement by the WHO explains.

Notably, the report highlights that an estimated 19.5 million deaths from measles have been averted over the last 22 years. Others, such as meningitis deaths, have witnessed a sharp decline.

“Maternal and neonatal tetanus have nearly been eliminated in the region, and in a historic public health achievement, the African region was declared free of indigenous wild poliovirus in 2022 following years of relentless work to protect every child from the virus,” WHO adds in the statement.

Initiatives, especially the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), advanced by stakeholders such as the WHO, Gavi and UNICEF, among others, have been vital in the realization of these goals.

However, as Olilo Owuor, a Kenyan private and public health consultant, explains, there is a need to appreciate increased willingness and openness among African governments, which has boosted country-level commitments and allowed multiple programmes to be implemented.

“Budget allocations to ministries and health departments, training of personnel and other vaccination programs such as sensitization have increased in recent decades. This is why we are seeing results now,” he expressed in a telephone interview.

More recently, these commitments have become even more prominent, with countries making landmark efforts to protect their populations from preventable diseases.

Recent initiatives showcase this commitment, with Nigeria pioneering the rollout of the Men5CV vaccine, targeting meningitis strains. Despite progress, Nigeria remains a hotspot within the African Meningitis Belt, underscoring the importance of such interventions.

Even for traditionally prevalent diseases such as malaria, increased efforts to access vaccines are proving viable.

233 million malaria cases were reported in the WHO African region in 2022, a slight drop from the 234 million cases reported in 2021.

Two major vaccine discoveries have been made that promise to revolutionize the fight against malaria.

The RTS, S vaccine was approved in 2021, with pilot tests being done in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, where more than 2 million doses were administered. Thereafter, Cameroon became the first country to introduce the vaccine as part of routine vaccination.

The other vaccine discovered in 2023 is R21/Matrix M.

Jaishree Raman, of the Malaria Operational Research at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, explains that the “R21 vaccine is a significant improvement on the RTS, S vaccine, with 75% efficacy over a year.” The R21 vaccine is also cheaper.

After Cabo Verde achieved a significant milestone by securing malaria-free certification in January, more countries are ramping up vaccination efforts, leveraging the new vaccines on the market.

In the past week, Liberia, Benin and Sierra Leone have become the latest countries to roll out large-scale vaccination drives targeting millions of children.

According to the WHO, the addition of the three brings to 8 the number of countries on the continent that offer a malaria vaccine as part of their childhood immunization programmes.

Despite the immense progress and impact of vaccination programmes in Africa, gaps remain that hinder the achievement of high immunisation coverage.

In 2022, for instance, WHO data shows coverage for the first and third doses of the diphtheria-tetanus–pertussis-containing vaccine (DTP1 and DTP3, respectively) and the first dose of the measles-containing vaccine (MCV1) in the region was estimated at 80%, 72% and 69%, respectively (all below the 2019 level). Only 13 of the 47 countries in the region achieved the global target coverage of 90% or above with DTP3 in 2022.

To sustain progress, the WHO recommends the implementation of key strategies such as controlling protracted and frequent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and increasing investment in health systems and infrastructure for effective vaccine delivery.

Others include enhancing surveillance systems to respond swiftly to outbreaks; addressing vaccine hesitancy and misinformation; bolstering domestic funding for immunization programmes; increasing the use of innovation and technology for better vaccine delivery; and investing in research and development for vaccine development.


SOURCE: bird story agency


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