AFRICA – Dr. Marthe Sylvie Essengue Elouma, Regional Head for Francophone Africa at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has highlighted challenges and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and how to build back better health systems across the region.

She underscored that Gavi has played a critical role in helping African countries secure lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines while noting that the agency has supported national efforts to maintain vaccination campaigns for other vaccine-preventable diseases during the pandemic.

We worked well with other partners to build synergies and avoid duplication of efforts in our support to country programs.” Dr. Essengue Elouma said.

She outlined that countries where a digitalized data system was in place have integrated COVID-19 data in the respective system to enable them to have data that could help them to better plan, implement and track the response to COVID-19.

The GAVI Head for Francophone Africa further disclosed that the organization has supported countries in many areas including quick access to funding, technical assistance and Cold Chain equipment to mention a few.

In addition, she stressed that government and partners need to jointly prepare the system beforehand while noting that as Gavi, they think it is important for countries to leverage all existing funding in the country including Covid-19 resources to build resilient health systems.

We should assist countries in building information systems that capture good quality data for decision making, building a surveillance system that will facilitate early detection of outbreaks,” Dr. Elouma said.

She further said that countries were allowed to reallocate in-country funds or funds not yet disbursed by Gavi to specific activities to maintain, restore and strengthen routine immunization.

Being focused on actions that could bring tangible and sustainable results is key for countries’ preparedness. This requires prioritization and resources allocated accordingly in order to be successful. Donors and partners need to prioritize their support in areas of their competitive advantage,” she said.

The Gavi head further called upon relevant stakeholders to support countries to put in place robust financial management systems that can ensure the efficient transfer of funds from the central to the community level to facilitate implementation.

Gavi also improved its internal processes of accessing funding by introducing more flexibility and simplification in the application, review and disbursement processes to help countries to respond to COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the organization has worked closely with expanded programme of immunization (EPI) in countries to introduce flexibility for them to reallocate 10% of the Health System Strengthening funding in order to respond to the pandemic and protect routine immunization services.

Our major working contact in countries, the EPI had too many competing priorities that often they struggled to absorb the funding flexibility that we introduced for them to access more funding to support the response,” Dr. Essengue Elouma said.

In addition, the EPI team wasn’t involved in the decision-making process thus wasn’t able to influence decisions related to Covid-19 based on their experience in the field

Because of speed of execution of the response in most cases it was difficult to measure the impact. The EPI teams with weak capacity also delayed implementing key immunization activities,” she noted.

She stressed that procurement systems should be improved to facilitate access to goods including during a pandemic.

Similarly, EPIs should be strengthened with managerial and communication capacities to influence decision making at high level. We can also respond better if we have better coordination, better methods of measuring results,” she concluded.

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