More than 800 political leaders, technical experts and advocates attended the first Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa, sponsored by WHO/AFRO and the African Union in Addis Ababa, 24-25 February 2016. Attendees included ministers of health and finance and parliamentarians from throughout the region. The conference addressed topics of sustainable financing for immunization, the role of communities in driving coverage and demand for vaccines, and building stronger systems to improve child health.
Despite the critical role supply chains play in improving coverage and access to immunization services, only a few countries have prioritized supply chain improvements as a strategy to strengthen immunization program performance. Therefore, on February 25, Gavi, JSI, PATH and other partners sponsored a lunch-time side event, Next-generation immunization supply chains that reinforced the importance of supply chains in reaching global vaccine coverage and equity goals, and provided examples of successful supply chain changes that are already being adopted in the region.
The event was standing room only, with 180 people attending, including Tanzania’s former President Kikwete, 15 ministers and directors general (not including the speakers), 11 EPI managers, and three parliamentarians. Gavi CEO Seth Berkeley opened the sessions, and four ministers of health (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda) and two senior officials (Benin and Senegal) highlighted innovative changes their countries are undertaking to professionalize their workforce, improve data visibility, develop a culture of continuous improvement, optimize system designs, and strengthen their cold chains through new technology. Orin Levine from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation closed the session and emphasized the critical need for other countries to learn from these innovators.
The final Ministerial declaration reinforced the panel’s theme. Specific language called for countries to address “the persistent barriers in our vaccine and healthcare delivery systems, especially in the poorest, vulnerable and most marginalized communities, including the strengthening of data collection, reporting and use at all levels as well as building effective and efficient supply chains and integrated procurement systems.”