Immunisation vital to give children healthy start
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VACCINATION is always something parents have to think about and take action.

Besides preventing suffering and unnecessary deaths brought by preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and polio, vaccination also helps implementation of national priorities like education and economic development.

Many people never think of vaccination before having a child, but one must keep in mind that if many children are vaccinated, it eventually makes them immune and in the course eliminate communicable diseases in the community.

According to Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS) 2015-16, three quarters (75 per cent) of children aged 12-13 months received all basic vaccinations including one dose each of Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccination for measles and three doses each of pentavalent for polio while the overall 2 per cent of children received no vaccines at all.

Basic vaccination coverage increases with household wealth, from 65 per cent among children from the poorest households to 83 per cent among children from the wealthiest households, as well as mothers’ education.

Children in urban areas are more likely to have received all basic vaccinations than children in rural areas.

Coverage is lowest in Katavi and highest in Kilimanjaro with 54 per cent and 93 per cent respectively.

Basic vaccination coverage has increased slightly from 71 per cent in 1991 – 92 to 75 per cent in 2015-16.

In January this year, heads of State from across Africa endorsed the Addis Declaration on Immunization, also known as the Ministerial Declaration on Universal Access to Immunization, a historic and timely pledge to ensure that everyone in Africa receives the full benefits of immunization.

The endorsement was done during the 28th African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

World Health Organization (WHO) Tanzania Office in Charge, Dr Richard Banda said that currently Tanzania provides childhood vaccines to prevent ailments from more than 10 diseases such as pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza, polio, pneumonia and rubella to mention a few.

Dr Banda said nationally, immunization coverage for all childhood vaccines was above 90 per cent for most of the antigens.

However, there are pockets of underperformance in some geographical areas where the coverage is not as good.

“National averages tend to mask those underperforming areas and therefore more attention is needed in such areas,” he noted.

On the causes of people failing to access immunization in Tanzania, he said that factors associated with children not getting vaccinated were multiple and more or less similar to those attributed to limited access to health services in general.

Expounding further he said that terrains that are hard to reach, caregivers’ knowledge and attitudes, reliability of services, myths and misconceptions are some of the barriers to immunization services.

However, he said that the programme should strive to provide quality services that are client friendly, accessible, affordable and acceptable and this can be realized if the beneficiary communities themselves are involved in planning of services.

One in five children in Africa still does not receive basic lifesaving vaccines and as a result vaccine- preventable diseases continue to claim too many lives.

Measles alone accounts for approximately 61 000 preventable deaths in Africa every year.

“We know that universal access to immunization is achievable, the Addis Declaration on Immunization is a historic pledge with political support at the highest level.

We are closer than ever to ensuring that all children in Africa have an equal shot at a healthy and productive life,” noted outgoing African Union Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma The Addis Declaration on Immunization calls for countries to increase political and financial investments in their immunization programmes.

It includes 10 commitments, including increasing vaccine-related funding, strengthening supply chains and delivery systems and making universal access to vaccines a cornerstone of health and development efforts.

“Vaccines are among the most effective public health tools available when children are given a healthy start, communities thrive and economies grow stronger.

This show of support from Heads of State is a significant step forward in our efforts to achieve universal access to immunization and ultimately, improve child health and drive sustainable development across Africa,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

Dr Moeti said fewer than 15 African countries fund more than 50 per cent of their national immunization programmes, as Africa nears polio eradication, critical funding for immunization through the polio eradication programme is expected to ramp down.

He said countries approaching middle-income status will transit away from Gavi support for immunization in the coming years consequently; governments must redouble their efforts to make universal immunization coverage a national priority.

According to Dr Banda, the declaration was important to Tanzania as it acknowledges immunization as a key driver for sustainable development, when domesticated; the declaration should therefore help re-position the health of children on top of Tanzania’s development agenda.

“I think the declaration brings excitement because there is high expectation that the commitment will translate into sustainable financing for immunization at local level.

The endorsement reaffirms the right of Tanzanian children to the highest possible standard of health,” he elaborated Worth noting also is that one key consideration in the deceleration is equity.

This is to say no child should be left behind with regard to access to health services.

While Tanzania has made remarkable progress towards increasing access to immunization, there are still many children out there who remain unvaccinated and vaccine preventable diseases continue to claim their lives, commented Dr Banda.

Dr Banda said a single unvaccinated child was far too many; the declaration calls upon countries to ensure that full benefits of immunization accrue to every child.

This will help narrow the disparities in immunization coverage.

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