African Leaders Should Prioritise Immunisation

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African leaders were criticised for failing to prioritise immunisation with life-saving vaccines for children under five years of age to prevent deadly infectious diseases.

Delegates and speakers at the International African Vaccinology Conference in Cape Town said there was little political will among African leaders who were out of touch with the needs of their communities. They also agreed that more pressure must be put on African countries to develop and produce their own vaccines to drive prices down and meet demands.

More than 450 delegates from 40 African countries met last week to discuss the urgent issue of children still dying from common vaccine-preventable diseases in Africa. The continent is lagging behind the United Nation's Millennium Development Goal 4 which seeks to reduce deaths by two thirds in children under the age of five years by 2015 compared to 1990. At least 1.5 million children, mainly in Africa, die because they have no access to existing vaccines.

South Africa invests an estimated R1.2 billion in vaccine procurement, and pays the highest prices for vaccines in the developing world. The country needs to upscale efforts to stimulate vaccine development and production in the country, delegates said.

Cuba was hailed for its success in manufacturing Meningitis Polysaccharide vaccines which are used in the Meningitis outbreaks in Africa, although it is a poorer country than South Africa.

The conference closed with the adoption of "The Cape Town Declaration: Unlocking the full potential of childhood vaccines in Africa". The declaration advocates strengthening national childhood immunisation programmes; encourages regional co-operation; explores strengthening purchasing power by pooling vaccine demand and procurement and ensuring African government’s commit to saving children's lives.

The International African Vaccinology Conference was organised by the Vaccines for Africa Initiative (VACFA) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS).

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