As someone who has dedicated his life to public health, I am thrilled to see Africa’s leaders making a bold commitment in support of immunization. The African Union endorsement of the Addis Declaration on Immunization (ADI) demonstrates that vaccines, and the proper health systems to deliver them, play a significant role in the future of our continent.
Measles and many other diseases preventable by vaccination have a devastating potential. Even a few years ago, rural communities had a saying: to know how many children you have in your household, wait for the measles. Measles epidemics have decimated children in times past. This was the case of the Mankanza territory in the province of Equateur, located 220km from the provincial capital, Mbandaka, and accessible only by water. Many, many children were buried because the measles vaccine had not yet come to their communities until 1996. The few survivors can still recall the impact of these measles epidemics. Even with sub-optimal immunization coverage, once the vaccine came, no epidemics occurred.
Many remote communities like Equateur province, where I am responsible for administrative management of the health system, continue to ensure the vaccination of children to prevent under-5 deaths. The logistical challenges remain a huge barrier to immunization efforts.
The ADI calls for countries to increase vaccine-related funding, strengthen vaccine supply chains and delivery systems, and make universal access to immunization a cornerstone of health and development efforts. In DRC, one way we are doing this is through the overhaul of our supply chain. In Equateur, the NGCA initiative (in English, a new generation of supply chains for health products) focuses on developing an improved and modernized supply chain. We have committed funding, people and resources to design a system not just for today, but also for the future. This system, once fully implemented, will be able to efficiently reach every health clinic with an increasing number of vaccines and medicines to support our country’s overall health goals. This innovative partnership aims to solve the thorny issue of how each vaccine will get to every child, everywhere.
I am proud that DRC is just one of 16 countries worldwide that has made measurable progress in reaching more people with immunizations since 2010. Work remains to ensure every child is fully immunized, but now the leaders of all African nations have resoundingly agreed that this is work we should continue. I look forward to doing my part so children in Equateur, and throughout DRC, are waiting for immunizations no longer.