By Joyce Ojanji

With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving a total of 8.4 million children in the African region unimmunized, compared with 18 million globally, African leaders have endorsed a declaration to revitalize the momentum for all populations to have universal access to immunization.

The declaration dubbed Building momentum for routine immunization recovery in Africa aims to reduce mortality, morbidity and disability, and consequently help Member States to achieve their health standard development goals (SDGs) and economic and development goals.

The leaders were speaking 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, Ethiopia.

‘’Immunization saves lives and is one of the best health investments that money can buy,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “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.”

Recalling the Addis Ababa Declaration on Immunization endorsed by Heads of State at the 28th AU Summit, H.E. Ambassador Minata Samate Cessouma, the AU Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social ‎Development said that 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,’’ he said.

The declaration, at the event convened by the AU Commission for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, the Government of Sierra Leone and the World Health Organization (WHO), also called for urgent measures to “address persistent bottlenecks in vaccine and healthcare delivery systems, especially in the poorest, vulnerable and most marginalized communities.”

According to Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, 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.

“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,’’ he added.

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 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.

In Africa, vaccine-preventable diseases are responsible for 93% 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.