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Participants speak at the Annual EPI (Expanded Program on Immunization) Managers Meeting for East and Southern African Countries

Key fact: Immunization prevents illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases. As Africa made improvements regarding immunization, Eritrea has been applauded for its effective 95% immunization coverage throughout the country. From 18th to 20th March, the annual EPI meeting was held at Hotel Asmara Palace, where the Eastern and Southern African countries shared their experiences and challenges on vaccination programs.

  • -Mr. Tedros, Director of the National Immunization Program at the Ministry of Health, Eritrea

“Eritrea has controlled almost all vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and tetanus, including in rural areas. As a result, child death rate has dropped tremendously. The only reason Eritrea was able to achieve such results is the unconditional commitment of the Government and the community. The Government of Eritrea gives vaccination programs priority. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Health works with several partners who are also committed to reaching the desired goal in vaccination.

However, just because Eritrea is succeeding doesn’t mean we don’t need to push harder. We need to interact with other countries and share experiences and help one another.”

  • Dr. Annet Kisakje, WHO office in Uganda EPI Focal Person

“This is an annual meeting which brings together the EPI family, an opportunity to exchange experience from one another. What I saw here in this meeting is that there are several things Uganda can relate to Eritrea.

Nevertheless, what struck me was the community’s commitment. How can Uganda learn from that? By the end of this meeting, every country representative should work on motivating its community to have the same commitment as the Eritreans. That is something we need to go back as a team and be motivated to work on. The thing that Eritrea has accomplished relies on the community commitment. In Uganda we have the village teams, but have we used them properly to support the immunization program? If not, what else can we do to reach the children who haven’t been vaccinated in the village? That is what we learn from Eritrea”

  • -Dr. Josephine Namboze, WHO Representative for Eritrea

“There are four categories to where the countries are divided. Countries in Number one category are those with no infrastructure or are in unstable political situations which are having challenges with their own immunization program. Second category countries have challenges to reach children with the right vaccines. In the third category are countries that couldn’t reach the desired percentage of immunization coverage, which is 90%. The fourth category includes countries which were able to reach the goal, which is what every country is trying to be at. Looking at the example of Eritrea, other countries’ challenges can be the community involvement. Eritrea holds good community participation and, therefore, was able to mobilize communities to participate in the immunization program. When you have that as the key, it is easy for any country to overcome the issues of geographical access.”

  • -Dr. Shaya Ibrahim Asindua, Deputy Representative of UNICEF

“We are delighted that it is being hosted by Eritrea. This meeting dwells on issues of sharing experiences, new technologies and innovations. Eritrea has good experience to share; it has very high performance in covering the immunization over 95% for almost all vaccines. It has well-developed and maintained chain of vaccine management systems. Its effectiveness has been proven. This is one of the areas that other countries could really learn from Eritrea. Not all countries have the same record of high immunization coverage like the country. One of the biggest issues other countries are facing could be data collection. They need to focus on insuring in providing good quality and collection of data. Besides, another big issue is the unreached children; every child needs to be reached with immunization as it is their right. And this is an area that all countries need to focus on.

  • -Dr. Fitsum Daniel, WHO cluster lead for the Immunization and Vaccination Development Progress of Eastern and Southern Countries

“It is great to see that this year Eritrea and Rwanda have been singled out for their outstanding achievements in immunization. It added a great feeling to the meeting as Eritrea is hosting. There are 20 countries from east and southern Africa participating at this year’s annual meeting. We have divided the meeting in two sessions, one where all the countries take part to share the experiences and another parallel session where we have the scientific topics where we discuss practices and challenges. We will be coming up with the EPI program managers’ recommendation for 2019 which will be in a frame work and we will monitor it every six months.”

  • -Christopher Kamugisha, Horn of Africa Polio outbreak Response coordinator

“Previously we had a big case of polio type2 which happened in November 2017 in Somalia. We intensified surveillance to ensure where cases were coming from. We started having campaigns and divided the ten countries into three zones — Somalia, part of Ethiopia bordering Somalia, and another part in Kenya bordering the Somali area. This problem became a regional outbreak as people were shedding the virus with the constant population movement. As this problem continued in Nairobi, it was declared that the problem needs joint effort polio eradication by WHO. While we were dealing with type2 we also got type3 polio outbreak again in the same region. We needed to double our efforts to fight the challenge.

Previously we stopped using oral vaccine of type 2 in those regions, so we had to come up with only e monovalent vaccine so that we could stop the transmission. The challenge we are t facing now is the population movement in those areas. So far we haven’t had other cases from this area. It seems like we are doing better but we need to continue to make efforts.

Regarding immunization in Eritrea it is one of the few countries which have achieved greatly. I feel like Eritrea is the best country we have in the region. However, the way for the future is to increase surveillance, and then we can decrease the rate of child death.

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