NEWS COMMENTARY DISCUSSES THE IMPORTANCE OF VACCINES AS GHANA HOSTS LAUNCH OF 2021 AFRICA VACCINATION WEEK.
Ghana is hosting this year’s launch of Africa Vaccination Week. An event celebrated during the last week of April 24th -30th with other WHO Regions and the World Immunization week. The week aims at promoting the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages. The continuous search for a long lasting COVID-19 vaccine brings to the fore the importance of vaccines to human existence from birth to adulthood. Many dangerous diseases can be prevented through the use of vaccines. Some of these are Polio, Measles, Yellow Fever, Malaria, TB and a host of others including COVID-19. Ghana has been chosen to host this year’s event in recognition of its high immunisation status with consistent high coverage rates, commitment of leadership, successes in sustaining routine immunization during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and being the first country within Africa to access and deploy COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility.
This therefore gives Ghana the opportunity to showcase her success stories, challenges faced in the health system and solicit for strong partnership. Ghana has come far as the Health service has been observing Africa Vaccination Week together with Child Health Promotion Week which was instituted in 2004 to augment the uptake of routine child health services with focus on topical issues that affect the health of children under five years. Some of the services or key interventions provided during this period aside immunization, are Vitamin A supplementation to boost immunity and prevent blindness, distribution of long lasting Insecticide Treated nets, growth monitoring and screening of children for their nutritional status to identify severe malnutrition among others. These are major factors for child survival.
As such health service providers are being encouraged to use every visit by caregivers to any health facility to check the vaccination status of children under five years and provide any dose of vaccines a child may have missed. The world has made substantial progress towards the reduction of childhood illnesses and deaths through vaccination which is known to prevent Two to Three Million childhood deaths annually. Ghana currently vaccinates children against 13 preventable diseases including Polio, Neonatal Tetanus and Whooping Cough which is now a rare disease due to the pentavalent vaccine. Africa Vaccination Week was established by member states of the Africa Region of the WHO to maintain advocacy, increase community participation and improve delivery of immunization services, with the basic fact that a healthy population is a productive, innovative and resilient one.
As such the best way to protect and promote the health of a population is to make sure people can access products and services they need without struggle. Vaccines have other benefits beyond health outcomes. These include averting huge medical costs and reducing time spent by parents and health care workers caring for sick children for long periods.Mothers and caregivers should take advantage of the Africa Vaccination Week which in Ghana also ushers in the Child Health Promotion Week to access services which are available free of charge to give their children a sound foundation to a healthy living. This is not the time to relax but rise up to secure the future wellbeing of the country’s children.
There have been calls for investment in the local production of vaccines not only for COVID-19 but others as well for routine immunization. Vaccine production is capital intensive and has always been the preserve of the northern countries, the Western world and Europe due to their financial clout and support from moguls. Africa has capable researchers and scientists who could equally produce COVID-19 vaccines or herbal medicines which can help deal with the disease but are not being heard. The FDA has already certified some herbal preparations which are now having clinical trials such as Nibima, a Ghanaian herbal medicine.
Perhaps one good piece of information is the President’s announcement in his 24th address to the nation that government has established a Committee to formulate a concrete plan for vaccine development and manufacturing in Ghana. This could excite the scientific community as it has clamored for this for a long time. The African Export-Import Bank, Afreximbank, a Pan African Multilateral Financial Institution has also announced a two billion dollar guarantee package for vaccine manufacturers in Africa to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. These developments are gratifying because the phase 3 trials of the Malaria Vaccine, RTS,S or Mosquirix were done at Eleven sites in Seven Africa countries including Ghana which had two sites, Kintampo and Agogo to gather safety and efficacy data on the Malaria vaccine.
Currently Ghana, Kenya and Malawi are leading the pilot introduction of the Malaria vaccine in routine immunization. There is therefore no doubt that Ghanaian and other African researchers and scientists can produce a vaccine for COVID-19 and other diseases when the needed support and facilities are provided. It is worth bringing our own into the global manufacturing picture because there are excellent brains in the Ghanaian and African scientific arena. This will stop the continent’s huge over dependence on the outside world for most of its medical supplies and save the continent and individual countries hard earned foreign exchange.
The marking is right on the wall now, the rush for COVID-19 vaccines and the bluff of manufacturers. It will also promote local ingenuity and boost confidence in our manufacturing industry among other benefits.
By: Theresa Owusu Ako, a Journalist.