As the Ministerial Conference on Immunisation in Africa commences today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, vaccine experts and officials representing 26 African countries from the ‘meningitis belt’ celebrate the introduction of MenAfriVac® and its achievements in the continent’s public health system. In five years, MenAfriVac, which is designed, developed and produced for use in Africa, has nearly eliminated serogroup A meningococcal disease from the meningitis belt countries and is now being integrated into routine national immunisation programs.
Since the vaccine was first introduced in Burkina Faso back in 2010, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 16 of the 26 countries in the African meningitis belt, between Senegal and Ethiopia, have conducted initial mass vaccination campaigns to protect their citizens. As a result of this, more than 235 million children and young adults, between the ages of 1 and 29 years old, have been immunised, eliminating meningitis A disease in those areas.
Manuel Fontaine, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund’s (UNICEF) Regional Director for West and Central Africa stated that “It’s clear that the rollout of the meningitis A vaccine has been a great success story in sub-Saharan Africa. At UNICEF, we’ll continue to work with national authorities, health workers and traditional and religious leaders so that vaccines remain well accepted and reach every community across the meningitis belt.”
The officials at the conference thereby plan a transition from mass campaigns to vaccine use in childhood immunisation programs to prevent the resurgence of deadly epidemics. Cases of meningitis A reduced from over 250,000 during an outbreak in 1996 to just 80 confirmed cases in 2015 and those were in countries that had not yet conducted mass immunisation campaigns.
Speaking ahead of the conference yesterday, Prof. Awa Marie Coll-Seck, the Minister of Health and Social Services of Senegal, encouraged African countries to reflect on the common goals and aspirations made in 2012 regarding achieving Universal Access to Immunisation by 2020 and improving healthcare for children.
“Thanks to immunisations, there has been a 55 percent reduction in child deaths in the past 25 years…Vaccines are a cost-effective proven investment that spur national development. Studies show that every dollar spent on immunization programs can provide economic returns up to sixteen times for a given country. Treating vaccine-preventable diseases places an enormous strain on public health systems by redirecting limited human and economic resources towards treatment instead of prevention.”
Furthermore, she stated it is essential to prioritise health for every child in every part of Africa to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. According to her, the Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa represents a key moment for African nations to catalyse support and accountability to ensure that universal immunization is made a reality.
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