African heads of State have signed a declaration to increase the use of vaccines in preventing of infectious diseases in a bid to close immunisation gap by 2020.
The declaration was signed during the closure of the 28th African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The endorsement by African leaders comes one year after health ministers from 20 African countries signed the declaration during a ministerial-gathering held in Ethiopia.
The declaration commits countries to increase domestic financial investments for routine immunisations and roll out new vaccines.
The move is backed by a report published by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health stating that expanding use of vaccines could save up to $44 for every dollar spent.
“We know that universal access to immunisation is achievable,” said outgoing African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“With political support at the highest levels, we are closer than ever to ensuring that all children in Africa have an equal shot at a healthy and productive life,” she added.
The Addis Declaration on Immunisation calls for countries to increase political and financial investments in their programmes to ensure that children across the continent have access to vaccines.
It includes 10 commitments, including increasing vaccine-related funding, strengthening supply chains and delivery systems, and making universal access to vaccines a cornerstone of health and development efforts.
The show of support from Heads of State has been hailed as a significant step towards achieving universal access to immunisation.
Speaking at the same event, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance board stressed on the need to ensure that the commitments translate into sustainable financing for immunisation.
“African leaders are showing outstanding leadership by endorsing this landmark commitment which will allow more African children to be reached with life-saving vaccines no matter where they live,” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
Less than 15 African countries fund more than 50 per cent of their national immunisation programmes.
But as Africa inches closer to eradicating polio, critical funding for immunisation through the polio eradication programme is expected to ramp down.
Additionally, countries approaching middle-income status like Kenya will transition away from Gavi support for immunisation in the coming years.
Consequently, governments must redouble their efforts to make universal immunisation coverage a national priority.
“As long as even one child in Africa lacks access to immunisation, our work remains unfinished,” said Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
A new report released during the ministerial conference last year painted a mixed picture on accessibility of vaccine in the continent.
According to the report, while Routine immunisation coverage has increased considerably across Africa since 2000, with success in introduction of new vaccines, one in five children still do not receive all of the most basic vaccines they need.
Still, three diseases—measles, rubella and neonatal tetanus—remain a big threat to the continent while at the same time many countries have fragile health systems that leave immunisation programs vulnerable to shocks.