13:08, 04.Feb 2016
First Lady Lordina Mahama has stressed the need for all, especially stakeholders in the health sector, to collectively prioritise immunisation. Immunisation, she noted, is a key intervention to reducing child mortality.
“Vaccination saves children’s lives, and keeps adults, communities, and nations healthy, safeguarding families from the cycle of poverty by increasing their resilience to disease,” she said.
The first lady made the call in a speech read on her behalf by the Chief Director of the Ministry of Health, Dr Afisah Zakariah, at the launch of the 6th African Vaccination and Child Health Promotion Week in Accra. African Vaccination Week is celebrated annually to strengthen immunisation programmes in the Africa region by increasing public awareness on the importance of every child, every woman and every person’s need and right to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.
According to the first lady, this year’s African Vaccination Week occurs at a very important time in the history of immunisation in the Africa region due to the fact that Nigeria has been removed from the list of polio-endemic countries and political leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to intensify efforts to provide immunisation services to all African children at the first ministerial conference in Africa.
“Indeed, tremendous progress has been made in the domain of reducing childhood illnesses and deaths and preventing the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases. Yet, we cannot tell our success story until every African country has learned from the great achievements of our sister nations that have already achieved 90% immunisation coverage. We cannot claim any real success for ourselves, until services are scaled-up to the hard-to-reach children who still do not have access to basic vaccines in the year 2016,” the message said. This vision, she said, is not only for Ghana but the entire 20% of children in Africa who have not yet been reached with basic immunisation services on the continent.
Being the President of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), Mrs Mahama said she had joined hands with colleague first ladies to strive to achieve a common vision of making Africa a continent free from HIV/AIDS, and maternal and child mortality, and to make it a place where women and girls are empowered to enjoy equal rights and opportunities. “Thus, we have committed to advocate access and investments to life-saving vaccines for Africa’s mothers, new-borns, children and adolescents,” she said.
Mrs Mahama said the commemoration by member states to renew their efforts to reach every child with routine immunisation and to improve child health outcomes remains of utmost importance to the first ladies of Africa. “Because, as long as one country trails behind, we are all at risk of backtracking on the progress achieved thus far. We must all help to close the immunisation gap; we can stay polio-free.” she added.
Touching on the global theme for this year’s African Vaccination Week, ‘Close the Immunisation Gap, Stay Polio Free’, which draws attention to the need for universal immunisation coverage on the African continent and particularly for Ghana, Mrs Mahama noted that all must stay vigilant to ensure that all countries remain polio free.
For his part, World Health Organisation Representative to Ghana Dr Owen Kaluwa indicated that three million children under five years die each year in the Africa region and that vaccines could prevent a significant number of these deaths. “Receiving routine immunisation is essential to attaining the highest standard of health, particularly for women and children to become healthy and productive adults,” he noted.
Dr Kaluwa expressed worry about the inability of 60,000 children less than one year old to receive the third dose of the pentavalent, oral polio, and the pneucoccal vaccines in Ghana, and also the low coverage of less than 50 per cent of the pentavalent vaccines in two municipalities in Ghana.
These shortcomings, he believes, are major gaps that need to be closed through conceited efforts by all. Dr Kaluwa commended the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service for including the African Vaccination and Child Health Promotion Week into its strategic and annual immunisation plans but calls for more resource mobilisation to enable all regions and districts to actively participate in these activities.
Programme Manager of Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Dr George Bonsu noted that despite the achievements in immunisation in Ghana, one in five children still does not receive all the basic vaccines he needs. “As we commemorate the sixth edition of African Vaccination Week, it is critical to highlight the role of government, partners, health workers, NGOs, and families to invest time and resources in vaccination.
Ghana has over the years integrated the African Vaccination Week and Child Health Promotion Week as one of the sustainable ways of improving coverage of preventive child survival interventions, which include immunisation, Vitamin A supplementation, growth monitoring, promotion of ITN use, and birth registration.