It is estimated that about 3 million children under five years of age die each year in Africa, a significant number of these deaths could be prevented by vaccines. Further reports indicate that one in five children do not receive them a fact attributed to lack of delivery in remote areas or lack of information about the effectiveness of vaccines hence many do not receive them.
As a result countries and stakeholders are expected to raise visibility about vaccine-preventable diseases, address barriers to vaccination and make substantial and sustained additional investments to strengthen health systems and achieve equitable access to immunization services.
According to World Health Organization vaccine-preventable diseases include but are not limited to measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, yellow fever, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, pneumonia, diarrhea etc. Among these measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.
WHO’s global immunization strategy envisions a world where all individuals and communities can enjoy a life free from diseases preventable by immunization.
Health centers are often far from local communities with difficult terrain hence people are unable to travel the distance required to receive services. Some health providers’ rude or insensitive attitude has also been identified as one of the reasons caregivers do not continue to come to immunization sessions.
Routine and reliable service delivery is not only the backbone of any functioning immunization system but it is also central to a country’s overall health system. This kind of reliability is absent in many parts of Africa.
Knowing the number of children and older age groups eligible for vaccinations in a community will help in making accurate plans and developing operational budgets to provide services. Having regular immunization sessions at health facilities and tailoring these services to the needs of the community will also encourage more parents to bring their children in for routine vaccinations.
Recent studies show that the demand for immunization in Africa is actually fairly high but that lack of service or bad experience with services reduces community uptake. Friendly service providers go a long way in ensuring that children and their caregivers return for the next vaccination date.
Health workers should also provide family members with relevant information during each visit to a clinic including basic information on the given vaccine, possible side effects, when next to come back and which vaccines have yet to be administered. A vaccination card spelling out all these key details should be issued for each child. With this type of treatment and reliable service, the parent or caregiver is likely to come back.
Equally when a child or adult who is unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated visits a health facility for any reason, healthcare workers should check the patients vaccination record and administer any missing records.
Also healthcare officers should not wait for caregivers to bring children to them but rather they should reach out to educate and engage communities on the importance of vaccination in preventing deadly diseases. The health systems must also organize outreaches to ensure everyone has access to services especially in hard to reach communities and marginalized populations based on community needs.
Conflict creates an ideal environment for disease in such cases children miss out on basic immunizations because of the breakdown and sometimes deliberate destruction of vital health services. Even when medical services are available, insecurity in such areas often prevents them from reaching children.
Measles, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malnutrition are major causes of childhood illness and death and in conflict and emergencies, their effects can worsen. When children contract measles in non-conflict settings, less than 1 per cent of them die. In areas where crowding and malnutrition are rife, such as refugee camps, child deaths from measles can soar to up to 30 per cent of cases. Overcrowding and lack of basic necessities like food, water and shelter make children even more vulnerable to disease.