Posts or Comments 24 September 2022

Development &poverty &Vaccine Bill Brieger | 28 Apr 2022 07:42 pm

African Immunization Week Press Briefing: Reducing Poverty, Saving Lives

The World Health Organization’s African Regional Office held a press briefing to mark World Immunization Week/African Immunization Week. Three experts shared their observations of developments and trends and responded to questions over the course of an hour on Thursday 28th April. The panelists included Dr Benido Impouma, Director, Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Professor Helen Rees, Executive Director, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, and Hon. Dr Kailash Jagutpal, Minister of Health and Wellness, Government of Mauritius. In addition, Dr. Mory Keita answered questions about the latest Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Concerns about COVID-19 featured in this immunization briefing for several reasons. First was the low coverage of COVID vaccines on the continent. Second was the way that COVID put demands on health workers’ time as well as on precautions to be undertaken, which limited the reach and coverage of immunization services for other vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs). Also, the resulting reduction in immunization coverage was responsible for other deadly outbreaks, notably measles. Between January and March 2022, for example, there was a 400% increase in measles cases compared to the same period last year.

Dr. Impouma that COVID ‘taught the lesson’ that catch-up campaigns for VPDs were not only necessary but could be handled successfully. Finally, health services learned the importance of integration, whether joining COVID and Yellow Fever vaccination efforts in Ghana or integrating COVID with maternal and child services and immunizations. Ultimately, health workers learned that by strengthening ‘routine’ immunization, health systems overall could be strengthened thus, making progress on achieving Health For all through Universal Health Coverage.

Dr. Jagutpal shared key considerations for successful life-course immunization programs. Mauritius offers free, universal vaccination from birth. Thirty VPDs are addressed ranging from Human Papilloma Virus to flu and not of course, COVID-19. Success is based on involvement of all stakeholders through regular meetings where real time decisions can be made. Mauritius in one of the first to formalize the COVID Vaccine Pass Card and has achieved 60% full vaccine coverage including booster shots.

Prof Rees noted that the term ‘routine services’ makes vaccines seem boring and less important, when in fact, they should be seen as “Core Services”. This central role of vaccines goes beyond preventing specific diseases. By saving children’s lives and reducing the time demands on parents who care for children suffering VPDs, immunization promotes human development, reduces poverty, enhances the economy, and strengthens employment. There remain children who have had no vaccines. Identifying these ‘zero dose’ children and the communities in which they cluster can help us focus on ameliorating the vulnerabilities of their families and bring multi-sectoral resources to bear on strengthening poor communities.

Dr Keita reviewed the two recent cases, now deaths from Ebola in Équateur Province in DRC, its third EVD outbreak. Ebola vaccine teams have started working, reaching 78 contacts. He lamented that much of the DRC has a natural ecological predisposition for the animal reservoirs of Ebola, so more effort on making regular vaccines and treatment available is required. As Prof Rees pointed out, this setting is a perfect example of the need for a One Health approach to many of our health challenges which are zoonotic in nature. Even with coronaviruses, animal reservoirs are a central element of transmission.

Additional research is recommended in several areas. The slowly increasing laboratory capacity in Africa was mentioned. It contributed to finding Omicron and its variants. Potential new ones may have been identified recently. Seropositivity analysis has found that 80-90% of people tested may already have COVID antibodies. Research can clarify the role of vaccines in these circumstances. Research as well as regular program monitoring is still needed to determine the factors that may cause children to miss vaccines. It is often not the case that parents are ‘hesitant’, but that system and community factors combine to prevent them from seeking care. Research can also assist in finding vaccines and tools for tackling other deadly pathogens such as Lassa Fever.

Vaccines save lives from endemic diseases, but in the long-term vaccinated families and communities can fight poverty which itself is a leading factor in illness and death. This will accomplish the theme of this year’s observance, “Long Life for All.

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