Immunization Prevents 3 Million Deaths Yearly

By Amie Sanneh and Mamadou Dem

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in the Gambia, Dr. Charles Segun Moses, has said that immunization prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths every year.He added that it protects children not only against diseases for which vaccines have been available for many years, such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio and measles, but also against diseases such as pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhoea, 2 of the biggest killers of children under five.

The WHO Rep made this remark in a joint statement issued by WHO and UNICEF on behalf of the United Nations System in The Gambia recently at the opening of the World Immunisation Week 2015 held at the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul.

The WHO Rep noted that despite these benefits, it is worrying to note that 1 in 5 children is still missing out: in 2013, an estimated 21.8 million infants did not receive lifesaving vaccines. This, he said, may be attributable to different factors, inadequate supply of vaccines, lack of access to health services, shortage of accurate information about immunization and insufficient political and financial support constitute some of the major barriers to accessing immunization services globally.

Dr. Moses explained that the situation in the Gambia may not be entirely different. He recalled that in 2013, DHS results showed that about 10% of children aged less than one year did not receive the third dose of Pentavalent Vaccine. “This means that there is still significant number of children not receiving basic vaccinations, justifying the need to strengthen our national immunisation services,” he emphasized

He said the day is signaling a renewed global, regional and national effort to accelerate efforts to increase awareness on and demand for immunisation services by communities.

This year’s campaign focuses on ‘closing the immunisation gap’ and reaching equity in immunisation levels as outlined in the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), he said. According to him, the Plan, endorsed by the 194 Member States of the World Health Assembly in May 2012, is a framework to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 through universal access to vaccines for people in all communities.

He added that the Plan seeks to ensure that the benefits of immunisation are equitably extended to all people regardless of geographic location, age, gender, disability, educational level, socio-economic level, or ethnicity

According to the WHO Rep, despite successes in improving access to immunisation, inequities still exist, both between and within countries. He added, “Household wealth, geographic location and gender-related factors, such as the mother’s education, all have an impact on whether a child is immunised or not,” he said.

While commending the Gambia’s track records in immunisation services, he recommends that greater attention be given to the implementation of the RED (Reaching Every District) strategy. This strategy, he continues, helps to reach each and every child irrespective of age, gender, location and status with the aim of achieving 90% and 80% immunisation coverage rates nationally and regionally respectively.

He explained that the government has taken on fully the cost of its traditional vaccines, injection material and co-financing obligations with GAVI for all the new vaccines introduced during the past four years.

In his opening remarks, Mr Omar Sey, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, said the World Immunisation Week is an event celebrated annually with the aim to promote the use of vaccines in order to protect people of all ages against vaccine preventable diseases.

He explained the process of immunisation, “Immunisation is the process by which an individual’s immune system becomes fortified against an agent (known as the immunogen). Immunization is done through various techniques, most commonly vaccination. Vaccines against microorganisms that cause diseases can prepare the body’s immune system, thus helping to fight or prevent an infection.”

Minister Sey described it as one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions the world has ever achieved after the provision of safe drinking water.

According to the Health Minister, Global data in 2013 shows that an estimated 21.8 million infants did not receive these lifesaving vaccines despite their availability at easy reach which is a big concern. “This could also be as a result of inadequate supply of vaccines, lack of access to health services; a shortage of accurate information about immunization and insufficient political and financial support all play a part,” he said.

Minister Sey stated that this years’ World Immunization Week 2015 focuses on the theme: “close the immunization gap, vaccination for all.”

He said government will never relent in its effort in trying to improve the health system in general and strengthening immunisation systems in particular.

He said despite achievements made in the area of immunisation, there are still some gaps and thus stressed the need to work together to close the gaps on these diseases and improve the overall child health in the Gambia regionally and globally.

Minister Sey called on parents, guardians to ensure that their children within the specified age group are vaccinated during routine immunization activities as well as during periodic campaigns. “It is their birthright to be protected from all vaccine-preventable diseases,” he said.