By Sharon Atieno

Following the measles outbreak reported in at least nine African countries with Madagascar having more than 122, 000 cases between October, 2018 and April, 2019; immunization partners have called on countries to remain vigilant in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases in the marking of the African vaccination week.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that accounts for 13 percent of all vaccine-preventable deaths in children younger than 5 years in Africa. It infects nine in ten people who are not vaccinated.

“We need to work together to improve immunization delivery so that all children are protected from preventable diseases. Recent disease outbreaks on the continent remind us of the urgency of this goal,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa.

“Outbreaks of measles in Madagascar and Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo underscore the need for increased investments in immunization as a fundamental part of strengthening primary health care systems.”

While political will for immunization across the region is high, the progress is still slow. As of 2017, only 16 countries in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) African Region had achieved 90 percent or more immunization coverage of the first dose of measles vaccine (MCV1), according to the WHO-UNICEF coverage estimates. Across the region, MCV1 coverage has stagnated, at 70-73 percent since 2009.

Though vaccines are one of the most effective and cost-effective public health interventions available, one in five African children still lacks access to all the necessary and basic vaccines a child should receive.

In marking the 9th African Vaccination Week (22 April-28 April) at São Tomé and Príncipe, partners at the launch stressed the need to move from commitment to action by increasing domestic investments in immunization and strengthening access to vaccines in hard-to-reach areas.

African Vaccination Week is a galvanizing period for the region, in which millions of people receive critical vaccines and screenings. It also provides a platform for immunization advocates to encourage governments to keep immunization high on their national and regional agendas.

“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that children and communities get the immunization services they need – from politicians and community advocates to health practitioners and parents themselves. I hope African Vaccination Week will encourage each of us to do our part and that these collective efforts will drive progress across the region,” said His Excellency Mr Evaristo do Espirito Santo Carvalho, President of São Tomé and Príncipe during the launch.