Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, the Minister of Health, Monday launched the 11th African Regional Vaccination Week (AVW) commemoration in Accra, on the theme: “Vaccines Bring Us Together.”
He said the Week sought to increase community awareness about immunisation and strengthened linkages between Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) and other child survival interventions.
Ghana, he said, was commemorating the African Vaccination Week alongside the annual Child Health Promotion Week (CHPW), which was instituted in 2007 by the Ministry of Health to raise awareness on routine childhood services, and focused on topical issues that affected the health of children under five.
Mr Agyeman-Manu stated that the African region had made substantial progress towards vaccine childhood morbidity and mortality reduction, while immunisation had prevented between two to three million children globally from dying annually.
The Minister deemed the year’s theme as very apt, saying, “The well-being of our children is the ‘litmus test’ for the health and future well-being of our society and planet, and also, posed a reflection of the need for everyone to support the vaccination process to reduce vaccine-preventable diseases to its barest minimum.
He said ensuring the availability of vaccines was, therefore, critical in safeguarding the well-being of children, and that it was against that background that the AVW was initiated in 2010 to provide an opportunity for countries in Africa to strengthen their immunisation services and systems through advocacy, education and outreach activities.
The Health Minister said currently, Ghana’s EPI vaccinated against 13 vaccine-preventable diseases.
The diseases are tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, neonatal tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), and hepatitis B.
The rest are haemophilus influenza type B, measles, rubella, yellow fever, rotavirus diarrhoea, pneumococcal and meningococcal diseases.
He explained that the programme was integrated into the routine health delivery system and that with partner support and using the reaching every child strategy, tremendous progress would be made in protecting children and pregnant women living in Ghana against vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).
The Minister mentioned some notable achievements of Ghana’s EPI as the over 90 per cent coverage for almost all routine vaccines in the country, adding that the proportion of fully immunised children, 12-23 months had improved from 47 per cent in 1988 to 77 per cent as of the last demographic and health survey in 2014.
Again, there had been no documented childhood death due to measles in the past 15 years (since 2003) and Ghana was in elimination mode for measles control, while the country had also been free from wild polio virus since 2009, with yellow fever epidemics also nearing elimination.
He indicated that although Diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) may now be rare diseases as a consequence of the pentavalent vaccine, vaccine-preventable diseases had not vanished, and “may reoccur if we slacken in our effort at immunizing all eligible children at the right time.”
He called for all hands on deck to sustain the gains made so far, to protect the health of children by closing the immunisation gap, especially for children below five years, who were most vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Mr Agyeman-Manu also stated that the emergence and the continued surge of COVID-19 cases in waves, and the discovery of vaccines had brought a new dimension in Vaccine-Preventable Diseases while buttressing the fact that Africa and the global community could only win the fight against such illnesses through a collective effort.
Mr Charles Abani, the UN Resident Coordinator, called for the need to ensure the achievement of equity in immunisation coverage through equity-focused strategies for supporting global, continental, regional, subregional-districts and sub-districts, to make sure pockets of poorly vaccinated areas, especially in urban slums, island and riverine communities were reached.
He gave an assurance that the United Nations in Ghana, principally through WHO and UNICEF, would continue to work with other development partners to support immunisation efforts of the government of Ghana to ensure no one was left behind.