WHO Africa Region celebrates Vaccination Week

Ghana has joined other African countries to celebrate the third African Vaccination Week (AVW), scheduled for 22-28 April. The event, organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa Region, is on the theme “Save lives. Prevent disabilities. Vaccinate”

During the week, all member states of  the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the African Region will organise a range of activities including high-level immunisation campaigns and public education and information-sharing events in observance of the third edition of the AVW, which is aimed at educating and creating awareness of vaccination and its importance to children.

The third AVW is being celebrated at a time when significant progress is being made in improving immunisation coverage in the African Region through the “Reaching Every Child in Every Community” approach and refocusing on the core elements of the immunisation system.

According to the WHO African Regional Office, reaching more people and strengthening immunisation on the continent is the aim of the third African Vaccination week, which is an initiative led by the WHO and implemented by countries in the region.

Like the two previous editions of the AVW, held in 2011 and 2012, the 2013 edition will also serve several purposes, including to raising awareness on the life-saving value of immunisation;  seeking to increase vaccination coverage;  and reaching underserved and marginalised communities (particularly those living in remote areas, deprived urban settings and strife-torn areas with existing and new available high impact child survival packages).

The AVW will also be used to reinforce the medium and long-term benefits of immunisation and other child survival interventions, and help transform the lives of millions of children, giving them a chance to grow up healthy, go to school, and improve their life prospects.

Other activities planned by countries include delivery of life-saving interventions (e.g. introduction of new vaccines like pneumococcal or rotavirus vaccines), vitamin A supplementation; deworming medicines for intestinal worms; distribution of Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets; ‘catch up’ activities with routine vaccines in lower performing districts; polio and measles campaigns; and screening of children  for missed opportunities and for moderate or severe malnutrition.

Records available at WHO show that during the celebration of the event in the last two years, access to vaccines improved, especially in hard-to-reach communities, with more than 150 million people vaccinated with oral polio vaccine in 13 countries.

According to the world body, all 46 member states of the WHO in the African Region are expected to fully participate in this year’s edition in order to strengthen immunisation programmes.

They are drawing attention to and increasing awareness of the importance of every person’s needs and rights, particularly children and women, to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. They will also receive other high impact public health interventions.

A regional launch is planned in Kampala, Uganda, for  April 27, to coincide with the formal introduction, by that country of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine into its national routine immunisation schedule to avert infant and child deaths due to pneumonia.

Last year, the African Vaccination Week was observed from 23 to 28 April on the theme ‘An unimmunised child is one too many. Give polio the final push’.

Ghana introduced two new vaccines into the National Immunisation Programme from May 2012 to boost child survival in the country. The two are pneumococcal vaccine for the prevention of pneumonia and meningitis in children and rotavirus vaccine for prevention of diarrhoea in children under five years.

The introduction of the new vaccines is intended to reduce morbidity and mortality due to pneumonia and diarrhoea diseases. The introduction was preceded by advocacy and social mobilisation activities to raise awareness. Training was also conducted at all levels in the country. 

As part of the plans to unveil the new vaccines (pneumonia and rotavirus vaccines), the country organised a national launch on Thursday April 26, 2012. The overall objective is to reduce child and infant mortality towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal 4.

The then First Lady, Dr Ernestina Naadu Mills, said at a ceremony in Accra to mark the introduction of the two life-saving vaccines that “I am happy to announce that vaccines against pneumonia will from today be available at all health centres and hospitals. Children will be given three doses of the vaccine at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age. Also, rotavirus vaccines will be administered to children aged 6 and 10 weeks.”

Immunisation week focuses on saving lives by protecting people against vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, measles, pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus and tetanus through immunisation. In 2011, for the first time, about 180 countries and territories across the World Health Organisation (WHO) regions of Africa, the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe and the Western Pacific took part in simultaneous immunisation week.

Immunisation is one of the most successful and effective health interventions. Immunisation has reduced morbidity and mortality across the world in a safe and cost-effective manner. It is an important investment for all countries.

From infants to senior citizens, immunisation prevents debilitating illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases. Moreover, the benefits of immunisation are increasingly being extended to adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis and cancers that occur in adulthood.

Story: Salome Donkor