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World Immunisation Week: bridging the gap

During World Immunisation Week (21-28 April), the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia (APPG), Save the Children UK and RESULTS UK held a roundtable on inequalities in immunisation and challenges of ensuring that every last child receives the benefits of immunisation.

The event was chaired by Lord Avebury and brought together parliamentarians, industry experts, frontline health workers and implementing organisations.

Finding the final fifth

I had the pleasure of presenting findings from our forthcoming report, Finding the Final Fifth, highlighting inequalities in vaccination coverage and identifying the children not reached by immunisation and why.

This helped frame the debate around the issue of inequality, which was a common thread throughout the event.

Perspectives from the frontline

Dr Sabrina Kitaka, Senior Lecturer and Paediatric and Adolescent Health Specialist at Makerere University, came all the way from Uganda to be part of the event and gave valuable insights into the challenges faced in countries.

She spoke about inequalities between countries in receiving new vaccines and the need to address stock-outs. She emphasised the importance of strengthening health systems and increasing national budgets to ensure every child is reached with immunisation.

HPV in the developing world

Baroness Kinnock giving her remarks; to her left Lord Avebury; to her right myself

Baroness Benjamin and Baroness Kinnock spoke about the Human papillomavirus (HPV) and its role in the developing world where HPV prevalence is high, yet its vaccine remains scarce. Baroness Benjamin emphasised our moral duty to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots.

Baroness Kinnock stressed that it is not just about disparities but about grave inequalities. She talked about gender inequalities creating barriers to vaccination, including issues surrounding son preference and women’s empowerment.

Both congratulated the GAVI Alliance on all the good work they are doing.

Simultaneous roll-out of new vaccines

Speaking on behalf of the GAVI Alliance, Daniel Thornton, Chief of Staff, touched on some of the challenges faced by GAVI and showed a powerful trailer for the upcoming launch of the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in Ghana – the first time any country will introduce two new vaccines into their routine immunisation schedule at the same time.

Daniel Thornton speaking on behalf of the GAVI Alliance; to his left Dr Sabrina Bakeera-Kitaka and Lord Boateng; to his right Baroness Benjamin and Lord Avebury

Reaching the final fifth – value for money

Allison Beattie, interim Head of Human Development at the Department for International Development (DfID), finished up by giving an overview of DfID’s work on immunisation.

She talked of immunisation success stories – such as in India where they did not have a single polio case this year – and the importance of political will to make sure every child is reached.

She then went on to highlight some key challenges to reaching every child:

  1. Value for money – reaching the last 20% of children can be costly, but they are the value for money.
  2. Victims of own success – public vaccination campaigns can have a big impact but the momentum must be maintained, otherwise diseases can pop back up.
  3. Vaccines aren’t enough – they must go hand-in-hand with other public health interventions.

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