Asmara, 21 March 2019 - Immunization experts from East and Southern African countries concluded their annual EPI Managers Meeting on Wednesday here in Asmara, with participants agreeing on 20 recommendations aimed at reaching more children with life-saving vaccines and accelerating implementation of the Addis Declaration on Immunization to attain universal health coverage.
The recommendations ended the three days of robust discussions on immunization achievements, best practices and challenges in the African sub region.
Speaking on behalf of the Eritrean Minister of Health at the closing ceremony, acting Director- General for Public Health Dr Andebrhan Tesfatsion called on the participants to follow through on the recommendations agreed upon during the meeting to improve immunization coverage in the sub region. He added that the remarkable performance by Eritrea and Rwanda should be perceived by all countries as good practice of government ownership and leadership. He reiterated the urging of World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who called on all countries to attain their targets with improved leadership and ownership of the programme during her welcoming remarks at the start of the meeting on Monday.
“When all of us go back to our respective areas, we should be able to digest and implement the recommendations within the respective country context,” Dr Tesfatsion told the participants.
Also in closing, UNICEF Regional Advisor for Health Dr Gabriele Fontana called on participants to make efforts to maintain immunization at the core of primary health care within the ministries to reach universal health care.
“The EPI programme can be at the forefront of the primary health care to reach universal health care with strong focus on reaching vulnerable groups. That takes vision and commitment to do things differently. It might be challenging to measure, but I am confident that together we can make it happen,” Dr Fontana said.
He affirmed the UNICEF commitment to support countries in collaboration with WHO and partners to increase equitable immunization coverage in all countries. He congratulated countries for remarkable gains in immunization in the sub region in 2018 and called on the participants to redouble efforts to ensure no children remain unimmunized.
WHO Representative to Eritrea Dr Josephine Namboze assured participants of the continued support from WHO to the immunization programme and called on countries to document best practices and lessons learned in immunization initiatives and share widely for cross-fertilization. She echoed that EPI is significant in attaining universal health coverage, and its initiatives could help improve other health programmes in the countries.
“EPI should be appreciated as part of the overall UHC – it is not a stand-alone programme. EPI, just like other programmes, needs to fit into everything that is happening within the health sector as part of the essential health care package,” Dr Namboze said.
Participants agreed to the 20 recommendations for implementation by Member States and six for partners to support implementation of critical areas of the recommendations. Among others, countries were requested to document the implementation of the Addis Declaration on Immunization road map for presentation to the meeting of Heads of State in June 2019.
In response to the measles outbreaks affecting the region and the low uptake of the measles vaccine second dose, countries were requested to conduct assessments to identify bottlenecks and implement appropriate interventions. They also agreed to use existing tools to identify gaps in the vaccine-preventable diseases programme and develop strategies to address them. Recommendations were also crafted to address the challenges of vaccine-derived polio viruses in some of the countries, vaccine safety, new vaccine introduction, maternal and neo-natal tetanus, new innovations, integration of interventions, logistics and communication and social mobilization.
IST ESA IVD Team lead
Email: danielf [at] who.int