May 03, 2011 at 9:10am
African Vaccination Week
COMMENTARY ON MAIDEN AFRICAN VACCINATION WEEK
The health of every nation determines its level of development. Yet health appears not to be a priority on the political agenda of most governments in the developing world. The global community therefore set a target for nations to meet by 2015 dubbed, Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Three of the goals which are health related are reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV and AIDS, Malaria and other diseases. There is no doubt that the goals on improving maternal health and reducing child mortality are the most critical since the mother is the pillar of the family while the child is the symbol of development and hope for both the family and the nation.
Health analysts say 2010 was fraught with public health challenges stemming from a series of natural disasters. It was also a year when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed 10 billion dollars over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the world's poorest countries. Health Ministers at the 60th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in the same year adopted a resolution to institutionalise African Vaccination week to sustain advocacy, expand community participation and improve service delivery. The initiative is to strengthen immunisation programmes in Africa by drawing attention to and increase awareness of the importance and the right of all persons to be protected against vaccine preventable diseases. It further provides an opportunity for countries to strengthen their immunisation systems and linkages between Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) and other child survival interventions. Such interventions are aimed at accelerating progress towards the attainment of the 4th Millennium Development Goal.
As at last year, only six out of 46 countries in Africa were on track to achieving MDG4. There is still poor or inadequate access to immunisation, one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, widely recognised as critical to achieving MDG4. About 180 countries and territories across five WHO regions in Africa, the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe and the Western Pacific are expected to undertake various activities to boost awareness of immunisation and improve community demand for vaccines and delivery of services.
Four million children die in Africa in a year due to preventable diseases. And out of one thousand African children, 174 die before the age of five. Health officials say one million African children deaths could be prevented with existing vaccine today.
Ghana began putting her house in order when in 2003 she realised she was veering off set goals. The Health sector adopted global strategies for polio eradication and measles elimination and chalked up some successes. For eight years, no measles death has been reported and polio is on its way out. Under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, Ghana currently vaccinates children under one year against nine childhood diseases which include tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, tetanus, whooping cough and measles. Additionally, Ghana is on the verge of introducing pneumococcal vaccine for pneumonia and Rota Virus Vaccine which also protects against diahorrea into routine immunisation.
Though some modest gains have been made through such interventions by campaigns such as the Child Health Promotion Week and the Integrated Maternal and Child Health Campaigns, there is still much to be done since children continue to miss immunisation. This indeed is one of the greatest challenges as Prof. Francis Nkrumah who chaired the launch of the African Vaccination week pointed out. There is need to sustain the 80 percent national coverage and strive to move higher to reach more people. Another concern is donor financing of immunisation campaigns and partial political commitment. It is important for countries to mobilise resources to prevent diseases since new technologies have evolved.
The African Vaccination week has not been declared for nothing. It is a wakeup call devoid of lip service, empty slogans and strategies to real action "To put Mothers and Children First to vaccinate and stop polio Now." Interventions by the Ghana Health Service through EPI and the National Child Health Promotion Units are yielding positive results and need a pat on the back. They should however not be complacent since the 20 percent of unmet children can translate into large numbers.
The celebration of the African Vaccination Week has fallen right in place as the second round of this year's National Polio Immunisation Campaign and the Child Health Promotion Week will take place from the 9th to 14th May. Rotary International also deserves commendation for its immense role in the fight against Polio. It is hoped with this, a headway will be made to achieve MDG 4 by the set year 2015.
BY: THERESA OWUSU-AKO, A JOUNALIST .