DRC — With one in every five children currently lacking critical immunizations, African immunization experts have pledged to address the pressing issue of vaccine access and equity.
This announcement came as a result of an intensive and collaborative meeting of the Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group (RITAG) in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo.
RITAG, which was formed in 2016, advises the WHO African region on vaccination policies. With 15 diverse members, RITAG covers all vaccine-preventable diseases and age groups.
RITAG responsibilities include advising on vaccine selection, safety, surveillance, service delivery, health system strengthening, and community engagement.
Over 150 immunization experts from the African Region attended this three-day collaborative meeting, including experts from WHO, Gavi, UNICEF, government officials, healthcare professionals, and representatives from non-governmental organizations.
The experts committed to expanding access and accelerating efforts to protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Furthermore, the experts’ meeting provided an opportunity to discuss and strategize on critical immunization challenges confronting the African continent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on routine childhood immunization in the African region.
Gains have not only stalled but have reversed, with the number of African children missing routine vaccinations increasing from 7.7 million in 2020 to nearly 12 million in 2022.
Childhood vaccination rates have declined, resulting in the resurgence of diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, and yellow fever, as well as recurrent measles outbreaks in 17 countries.
This setback disproportionately affects poor and marginalized communities, as well as those living in conflict or vulnerable environments.
According to Prof. Helen Rees, RITAG Chair, the meeting reinforced the importance of collaboration and innovation in achieving a common goal of protecting the health of all African children.
She also stated that following this meeting, there will be renewed energy and determination to ensure that vaccines reach every corner of the continent.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, stated that during the pandemic, the link between the virus, emergencies, and noncommunicable diseases highlighted the importance of integrating disease interventions as the most efficient way to combat the disease burden.
She emphasized the importance of integrating all routine immunizations to include adolescents and adults in primary health care as well as chronic disease care.
She also emphasized that the pandemic demonstrated unequivocally the critical importance of vaccination as a public health tool, the impact of which saved not only lives but also livelihoods and national economies.
She also emphasized the importance of generating the data needed for evidence-based decision-making, as well as the critical role of experts in interpreting and applying evidence to inform policy and action while taking regional and national contexts into account.
The experts were urged to use this not only in your strategic guidance and policy direction on immunization but also to assist in evaluating the effectiveness of EPI programs and how RITAG recommendations are used to deliver results.
Over the course of the meeting, participants engaged in in-depth discussions and workshops, emphasizing the importance of collaborative efforts and data-driven decision-making in achieving immunization goals.
The experts emphasized their shared commitment to advancing regional immunization efforts and aligning with global vaccination initiatives.
The outcomes of this meeting will help to build resilient immunization systems capable of coping with future health challenges and promoting health equity throughout Africa.