President Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal and current Chair of the African Union, invited fellow African Heads of State, international agency representatives, public health leaders and civil society to join him in Senegal for the Forum on Immunization and Polio Eradication in Africa.
At the event, His Excellency President Macky Sall called on the continent’s Heads of State to reaffirm their support for the commitments made in the Addis Declaration on Immunization (and Immunization Agenda 2030 and make immunization and the fight against outbreaks a priority.
Adopted in 2017, the Addis Declaration on Immunization is a historic pledge by African Heads of State to ensure that everyone in Africa – regardless of who they are or where they live – receives the full benefits of immunization. Immunization Agenda 2030, unanimously adopted by all member states at the World Health Assembly in 2020, provides a strategic framework for addressing key immunization issues in the context of primary health care and universal health coverage during 2021-2030.
Despite significant progress made by African countries in recent decades to ensure that children get a better start in life through immunization, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines. Every country in the world experienced disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a total of 25 million children globally missing out on vaccination in 2021.
Polio resurgence in wake of Covid pandemic
Two years after the WHO African Region was declared free of wild polio, polio outbreaks continue to spread in under-immunized communities. The four-month suspension of polio vaccination campaigns in at least 16 African countries in 2020 due to Covid-19 led to tens of millions of children missing polio vaccines and contributed to the spread of variant poliovirus outbreaks across many African countries.
To tackle declining immunization rates and the resurgence of polio, His Excellency President Macky Sall called on Heads of State and other stakeholders to urgently remobilize around the Addis Declaration on Immunization and Immunization Agenda 2030, and reaffirm commitment to routine immunization, eradicating polio, addressing the resurgence of other vaccine-preventable diseases and establishing vaccine manufacturing programs on the continent to ensure that no child is left behind.
Organisations across the continent have announced their support for remobilising around the Addis Declaration, including the Organization of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD). Hundreds of civil society organisations signed on through the Civil Society Organizations Statement of Support, and 1,130 African scientists signed the 2022 Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication.
On the occasion of this Forum, His Excellency President Macky Sall said: “It must be said loud and clear that immunisation is a safe intervention. From their conception to the first injection, vaccines follow a rigorous and standardized scientific protocol that leaves no room for chance. Immunization saves lives, especially those of women and children, who are in many ways vulnerable groups in society. Immunization is effective. It prevents human suffering and disabilities, and helps to build strong immune systems in children. This is why, in 1974, we launched the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in Senegal. Today it comprises 14 antigens. At the continental level, the 2017 Addis Declaration on Immunization calls for African Union member states to mobilize to ensure access to vaccines for all. This is all the more necessary as health threats, old and new, continue to be rampant, with increasing risks for large-scale contaminations.”
For his part, Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director of the Africa CDC, said: “The pandemic has led to a major decline in routine vaccination rates across Africa, but we at Africa CDC have the expertise and the commitment needed to reverse this trend. We are re-engaging around the Addis Declaration on Immunization to increase access to vaccines, improve outbreaks surveillance and response and invest in vaccine production in Africa. This is how we will protect our children from vaccine-preventable diseases and is key to the new public health order we are working toward.”
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization said: “The right to health includes the right to vaccines. We must ensure that routine immunization services guarantee equitable access to all children wherever they live. Concerted regional and global action to expand access to life-saving vaccines will enable us to protect against multiple and concurrent outbreaks of diseases such as polio, measles, yellow fever, cholera, and diphtheria. This will save lives, prevent disease and help us better prepare for future crises.”
Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF added: “The lives of millions of children and adolescents are at risk due to a drop in routine vaccinations that can prevent killer diseases. Between 2019 and 2021, the world recorded the largest sustained decline in routine immunization in a generation. Millions of children continue to miss out. We must urgently make up lost ground and expand our reach to prevent dangerous outbreaks of diseases like polio and measles, especially among children who have yet to receive a single immunization. We know this is possible if we all work together to reach every child."
Emphasizing the importance of Africa developing its own vaccine industry, Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, said, “We are committed to end the transmission of all polioviruses globally and to work with countries to strengthen essential immunization in order to reach children with life-saving vaccines. Gavi has worked with countries across Africa for over 20 years to provide access to vaccines and strengthen health and immunization systems. Alongside our continued focus on routine immunization, helping to fight outbreaks and tackling the issue of zero-dose children, Gavi also strongly supports the AU’s 2040 vision to expand vaccine manufacturing in Africa. A thriving African vaccine manufacturing ecosystem is a huge opportunity to improve health security and self-sufficiency for the continent."