A child receiving drops of the Polio vaccine
A child receiving drops of the Polio vaccine

Immunisation experts have warned African countries need to invest in improving immunisation coverage to sustain gains made against vaccine-preventable diseases on the continent.

It came as the Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group, (RITAG) which advises the World Health Organsiation for Africa region, met in Johannesburg.

In recent years, only around seven in 10 children got a third dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTP3). Percentage of children getting DTP3 is used to measure immunisation coverage.

GAVI was created in 2000 to fund access to vaccines.

In its first 10 years, access to vaccines has helped avert some five million deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the some of the poorest parts of the world.

But at least 20 countries are expected to transition out of GAVI support by 2020.

“We have several countries that are going to transition on the continent,” Santiago Cornejo, director of immunisation and finance at GAVI, told Daily Trust during a telebriefing from Johannesburg.

Four African countries transition out of GAVI this year, including Nigeria—but their readiness remains doubtful.

“When we look at the readiness of these countries in this region, we still feel there is a lot of work that needs to continue to ensure the sustainability of the gains,” said Cornejo.

“Political will required”

Nigeria could need to allocate an estimated 1-2% of its budget in terms of its share to fund vaccine requirement, but “political will and participation will be required,” said Cornejo.

But GAVI continues to work with Nigeria to develop a transition plan but is not willing to push any financial model.

“There is no silver bullet that can be copied from one country to another to ensure their sustainability,” said Cornejo.

“We need to look at the specifics of each country and see how this can be implemented.”

“At the end of the day, we look at the financial requirements for the sustainability of vaccines, which can be met, what should be met by domestic resources.”

Vaccine-preventable diseases still kill at least one in two children under five years every year in Africa. That’s nearly six in 10 deaths globally attributed to VPDs.

The expert RITAG estimates the region is off track to achieve global and regional plans for immunisation—to ensure at least nine in 10 children are covered by immunisation by 2020.

Progress on immunisation

By the end of 2016, all countries in the region have introduced Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b vaccines.

In addition, 39 countries have introduced the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) for pneumonia, and 32 have rotavirus to protect against diarrhoea.

This year is the first time WHO has published immunisation data at sub-national level to help tailor interventions, after 140 countries shared their national data.

Political will is also at an all-time high as shown by the Heads of State endorsement of the Addis Declaration on Immunization at the 28th African Union Summit.

“We know vaccines work. When children are given a healthy start, families and communities thrive and economies grow stronger,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa.

“We have made great strides in recent years, but there is much work to be done to ensure that all children – no matter where they live – have access to the life-saving vaccines they need. Even one child still losing its life to a preventable disease is one child too many.”

The continent nears eradicating polio, but funding from the the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) for immunisation is expected to halve between 2017 and 2019.

Currently, 28 African countries fund less than 50% of their national immunization programmes.

“The RITAG meeting was an important opportunity to assess what we need to do to reach every child in Africa with life-saving vaccines,” said RITAG chair Helen Rees.

“We have identified some of the greatest challenges and opportunities. I am confident that together we can – and will – stem the tide of vaccine-preventable diseases across the continent.”