Africa has seen a significant increase in the access to vaccinations over the last few decades. Despite the welcomed upward trend we’ve seen, the WHO has now waned that coverage across the region has been stagnated at 74% for several years. The statistics measure coverage based of the number of children receiving the third dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTP3), which is given routinely to children under the age of seven to prevent potentially fatal diseases; diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis).
The Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (RITAG), principal advisory group to the WHO, have warned that the continent is not on track to meet the targets laid out in the Africa Regional Strategic Plan for Immunisation; which is a target of 90 per cent national coverage by 2020.
“We have made great strides in recent years, but there is much work to be done to ensure that all children – no matter where they live – have access to the life-saving vaccines they need. Even one child still losing its life to a preventable disease is one child too many,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said.
According to the 2017 GVAP report, preventable diseases are the cause of over half a million deaths of children under five in Africa annually. Data from the Ministry of Health in Kenya shows that, despite WHO efforts, immunisation coverage across the country has fallen from 85% to 68%. It also shows that the number of children not receiving any form of vaccination has risen – exposing large parts of the population to deadly diseases like polio, tuberculosis and pneumonia.
It’s thought that the decline in uptake is largely due to the nurses’ strike earlier in the year, which saw public health services unable to function for several months. However, the advisory group has also highlighted the desperate need for more funding across Kenya and other African countries, which’ve seen a decline in the amount of aid they receive in recent years. For example, funding received through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), who support routing immunisation programs and research labs, has been reduced by 50% between 2017 and 2019.
Despite the number of donations declining as countries like Kenya move towards becoming middle income nations, 28 African countries only provide funding for 50% of their national immunisation programs. “Increased funding will be needed from national governments to ensure that the phase-out of polio funding does not reverse immunisation progress,” RITAG chairperson Helen Rees, said.