The Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, has officially launched the African Vaccination Week (AVW). The AVW is a continental initiative that aims to refocus attention on the importance of vaccines for children.
The week-long African Vaccination campaign was launched by newborn and maternal health Ambassador Miatta Fahnbulleh at a well organized ceremony to commemorate the launch.
The ceremony took place at the Duport Road Health Center in Paynesville on Tuesday, April 6. Several government officials, UNICEF, fellow UN counterparts and civil society representatives were present.
About 850,000 children are expected to be vaccinated or to receive other essential health services during the course of this campaign, health authorities said.
“Vaccines prevent 2.5 million deaths annually worldwide,” said Ambassador Fahnbulleh. “Yet over 10 per cent of Liberian children have not received the full course of recommended routine immunizations.”
She said the AVW is an opportunity to close this gap through concentrated efforts to encourage more parents to vaccinate their children and to take other simple measures to keep them healthy.
Government, UNICEF and other partners are expected to support awareness and delivery of three interrelated interventions during the campaign.
The awareness and other intervention will focus on vaccination of infants under one year to prevent childhood diseases; provision of Vitamin A and deworming tablets to children under five years to improve nutrition and disease resistance.
The campaign is to also focus on promoting hand washing using soap or ashes (where soap is unavailable) to prevent disease transmission.
“The Government of Liberia guarantees all infants under one year a series of free, routine immunizations that can protect them from debilitating, potentially lethal childhood diseases,” Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Health Minister, Dr. Bernice Dahn, said.
She noted despite this, almost one in four deaths of Liberian children under five is due to vaccine-preventable illnesses.
To reduce child mortality, the government, UNICEF and other partners will promote greater awareness of the government’s routine immunization program, known as the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI).
Hours for health facilities and outreach sites providing these services nationwideare also expected to be extended. The importance of ensuring a child receives the full course of routine immunizations will be stressed.
UNICEF Country Representative Sheldon Yett said all mothers want what is best for their children and it is now time for mothers to take advantage of the routine immunization and other health services.
“African Vaccination Week is about both supplying this information and linking it to concrete services and action,” Mr. Yett said.
UNICEF is a key partner in the government’s efforts to expand routine immunization coverage in Liberia. With funding support from the GAVI Alliance, UNICEF imports all vaccines into Liberia and provides the system needed to keep those vaccines at the right temperature until they are administered to children.
Ensuring timely immunization is a key component of “A Promise Renewed”, a global accelerated effort supported by UNICEF and partners to reduce child mortality.
Meanwhile, the routine immunization package delivered under EPI includes vaccines that protect against measles, polio, pneumonia (PCV), tuberculosis (BCG) and yellow fever, as well as pentavalent.
Pentavalent protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hepatitis B and one form of influenza.
The package is given over the course of five visits made within the first year of life. As part of EPI, women of childbearing age are also eligible for tetanus toxoid (TT), which prevents tetanus in both mothers and newborns.