Experts say immunization systems in Africa need improvement

Three experts from the University of Cape Town in South Africa recently pointed out the shortcomings of immunization systems in Africa and found vaccine supply, financing and sustainability need urgent attention.

Gregory Hussey, Charles Wiysonge and Shingai Machingaidze praised the progress African countries have made in their immunization programs in the latest edition of PLOS Medicine. The authors found, however, that measles and polio outbreaks and high vaccine dropout rates indicate failures in the system.

The authors said that wide inter- and intra-country differences are responsible for the many African children that remain unvaccinated, unreached and under-vaccinated who are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases. The authors argue that changes must be made if the countries are to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

"We believe that in order for Africa to take advantage of the new decade of vaccines and extend the full benefits of immunization to its citizens by 2020 and beyond, a critical assessment is a fundamental first step," the authors said.

In 2010, an estimated 1.5 million children died throughout the world from vaccine-preventable diseases. The authors said with the 2015 MDGs approaching, Africa must take stock, assess its position and take ownership for the country and regional-specific problems by developing strategies to overcome these challenges. The authors said both immunization system strengthening and political will are needed.

"Political and financial commitment from governments as well as coordinated national and continental evidence-informed efforts by all immunization stakeholders are needed to both maintain current achievements and make additional progress for the Expanded Program on Immunization in Africa," the authors said. "African leaders must be held accountable for meeting agreed country targets and honoring international commitments made."