Congo: African Vaccination Week proves its worth (WHO/AFRO FEATURES)

Brazzaville, Congo (PANA) - If any doubts ever existed about the wisdom or benefits of instituting the African Vaccination Week (AVW), the celebration of the 3rd edition in the Region in 2013 very eloquently cleared such doubts.

Statistics at the WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) on the observance of the 3rd AVW tell the story.

During AVW 2013, more than 44 million doses of vaccines of all antigens were administered to several million infants, children, adolescents and adults in 43 countries in the Region.

But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. AVW 2013 saw more than 36.7 million doses of oral polio vaccine administered to children under five years of age in 10 countries. In 13 others, 31.5 million tablets of Vitamin A were distributed to children. In addition, 6.3 million children were screened for malnutrition and 3.8 million wash kits were distributed in 3 countries.

For “catch-up” vaccination activities, 7.5 million doses of vaccines of all antigens were administered to people in 16 countries.

“By all standards, this is a record,” says WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo. “At no time in the history of WHO in Africa have so many people been reached with so many doses of vaccines during a periodic intensification of immunisation activities.”

Dr Sambo also explained the significance of the theme --“Vaccination - a shared responsibility” -- which has been chosen for this year’s AVW scheduled for the week of 22-27 April.

”The theme is a simple and clear reminder that vaccination is a joint responsibility of governments, parents, immunisation programmes, health care workers, public health officials, families and communities. Everybody has a role to play. We must break down all barriers and form an alliance of partners to deliver life-saving vaccines to all those who need them,” he said.

Since its inception in 2011, AVW has flourished and grown and resulted in improved access especially to hard-to-reach communities. During the first two editions of the Week, focus was mainly on vaccination against polio and around 150 million people received oral polio vaccines. Also, vaccination was combined with other high-impact interventions during the three previous AVW editions.

This year, all 47 countries in the Region are expected to celebrate the week during which millions of children, adolescents, mothers and adults will be reached with various life-saving interventions.

In 2014, for the second year running, AVW will dovetail neatly into the World Immunisation Week (WIW), to be marked 24-30 April, under the theme “Are you up-to-date ?”. WIW serves as an over-arching framework to unite all global efforts in a week of vaccination campaigns, public education and information sharing and advocacy on immunization.

The overarching goal of AVW is to strengthen immunisation programmes in the Region by drawing attention to, and increasing awareness of the importance, the need and the right of all persons to be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases

The initiative strengthens the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) by emphasising activities that “reach the unreached”: populations in rural and/or border areas, low coverage municipalities and urban fringes with limited access to regular immunisation services.

Modern medical literature is replete with the benefits of vaccination and why it should be a top priority for

Among these are that immunisation prevents infections; saves lives; mitigates the severity or complications of diseases; provides protection for unvaccinated populations; contributes to global efforts to eradicate and eliminate diseases and extends life expectancy.

In addition to being safe, immunisation also promotes women empowerment (as women may opt for fewer children, knowing that children born will reach adulthood).

Put briefly, vaccines are among the 21st century’s most successful, most cost-effective, high-impact and most long-lasting and equitable public health tools for preventing, disease, disability and death.

Recent history (as shown in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere) has also demonstrated the power of vaccination efforts in promoting peace through vaccine-mediated ceasefires -- the so-called “days of tranquillity” -- during conflicts.

Complacency about immunisation or rejection of immunisation can lead to gaps in vaccination coverage which, in turn, lead to outbreaks.

For example, in 2000, rejection of vaccination on religious grounds by a member state led to the resurgence of polio in that country and the exportation of wild polio virus to a number of hitherto polio-free neighbours.

“With the results so far achieved, AVW has successfully argued the case for its establishment and continued celebration in the African Region,” says Dr Deo Nshimirimana, Director of the Immunisation, Vaccines and Emergency Cluster at WHO/AFRO.

“Considering the high rates of child and maternal deaths in Africa, countries in the Region will do well to introduce and intensify the implementation of additional strategies to protect children and women during AVW,'' he said.

Dr. Nshimirimana listed examples of such complementary interventions as including case management of childhood illness; screening for malnutrition and growth monitoring; hand washing demonstrations and soap and chlorine distribution, malaria prevention; provision of oral dehydration salts; identification of HIV-exposed infants and adolescents, HIV prevention and testing, and administration of HPV vaccine to adolescent girls.
-0- PANA SEG 18April2014

18 april 2014 10:26:36

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