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And…action! A blue sky blog

Much like the members of the A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together. But while reflecting on the Decade of Vaccines Action Plan on my journey home from the regional consultation, my thoughts turned to: What’s Next?

It would be a missed opportunity if the plan is adopted only to later flounder because people don’t know how to get started.
 I decided to use this blog to do a little ‘blue-sky thinking’, if you’ll excuse the business speak, and think in terms of actions for the action plan targets.

Target 1: Countries commit to immunisation as a priority

The term ‘political commitment’ is much used, but poorly defined. It boils down to three things: time, money, and people — the government must dedicate time to discussing the issue in ministries and in public; they must dedicate financial resources and assign people to work on it.

Getting a government to make a public pledge to improve immunisation will not guarantee action, but it would indicate the amount of time, money and people they intend to dedicate.

It could also have two immediate beneficial effects: media coverage of a pledge could help counter some of the negative press about vaccines and it would give civil society something to hold governments to account with. Another benefit may be peer pressure — a public pledge from one country could prompt one from a neighbour.

Making it happen

Many governments have already outlined their objectives in their national health plans or immunisation strategies. So step one would be to find those targets, write them up, and write a letter to the right person in government asking for them to be read out at a public event.

The response, and the country context, will dictate the next step and how easy it will be to use this for influencing.

A survey of attitudes towards immunisation in government departments could help measure progress on this target. A survey that asked officials to rate whether they agree with  statements  like  ‘Children in this country do not get enough vaccines’ — would reveal changing attitudes.

Target 2: Individuals and communities understand and demand immunisation

As my background is in PR, I think there is a role for the media here. I’ve seen a number of glossy advertorials in outlets like the Financial Times, the sole purpose of which is to say ‘Hey, rich people, invest in Cameroon!’. So why not a four-page Decade of Vaccines advertorial in media read by decision makers in developing countries? The sole purpose being to say ‘Hey, Cameroon, invest in vaccines!’.

On day one you write a list of the key publications. A month later the  quotes are in and a slot secured, three months later the supplement is published.

Increasing demand

Effective feedback that shows communities their place in the immunisation ‘league table’ could encourage people to demand better coverage. Much like the passenger information boards in train stations that reveal the number of trains that were on time each period, could we not do something similar for vaccination?

Imagine if every clinic had a board outside showing how many children had been vaccinated that month against a target or against a national average.

Imagine if your district was falling behind the next district over — a little bit of healthy competition might go a long way. (Obviously there would be issues around literacy, cost, data, etc. but we have eradicated smallpox, so this seems relatively easy in comparison.)

That’s the first two targets covered, I will look at the more technical issue of health system strengthening and integration in my next blog.

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