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MSD joins call to action on vaccination in Africa, celebrates Vaccine Heroes

Mother waiting for their babies to be vaccinated against communicable diseases. (PHOTO/FILE)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – MSD, known as Merck in the United States and Canada, has joined calls for more action to ensure a larger number of people across Africa are vaccinated against life-threatening diseases. As the continent marks African Vaccination Week, the annual World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease, MSD has added its voice to calls for African countries to intensify efforts to ensure all people receive the lifesaving benefits of vaccines.

More than 500 million children under the age of 5 years die from vaccine-preventable diseases in Africa each year, representing 56% of the global deaths related to vaccine-preventable diseases. Immunisation is critical to preventing these deaths and helping children everywhere survive and thrive [i].

“Vaccination at all stages of life – infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood – can help save lives by preventing many of the life-threatening diseases affecting people both in Africa and elsewhere around the world. MSD has been committed to inventing life-saving vaccines for over 100 years, and together with others we remain dedicated to supporting vaccination programs to help people live healthier lives,” said Rene Snyman, Managing Director for MSD in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Immunisation saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions[ii], preventing illnesses, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases such as cervical cancer, diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus[iii].

Celebrating Vaccine Heroes

This year’s theme “Protected Together: Vaccines Work”, is a call to action to galvanize communities towards ensuring that immunisation takes precedence in the African region. The 2019 campaign also celebrates vaccine heroes from across the continent who play an inspiring and integral role in delivering vaccines and saving lives.

“While we acknowledge the work that still needs to be done, it’s important for us to recognise the progress that has been made, and the contributions of parents, healthcare workers, scientists, educators and communities that have helped get us to where we are. Without these heroes playing their roles as champions and advocates of vaccination, many more would have fallen victim to vaccine-preventable diseases,” Mrs Snyman said.

Thus far the uptake of new and underused vaccines is increasing, yet there are still nearly 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children in the world today. Since 2010, 113 countries have introduced new vaccines, and more than 20 million additional children have been vaccinated. In 2017 alone, the number of children immunised – 116.2 million – was the highest ever reported[iv].

Despite these gains, all the targets for disease elimination—including measles, rubella and maternal and neonatal tetanus—are behind schedule, and over the last two years, the world has seen multiple outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and various other vaccine-preventable diseases. Most of the children who miss out are those living in the poorest, marginalised and conflict-affected communities.

Some of the barriers preventing vaccinations include the lack of adequate healthcare system infrastructure, issues regarding vaccine cold chain logistics, the lack of political and financial commitment as well as a shortage of healthcare workers in these communities to name but a few. By investing in partnership activities and in-market programs, these barriers may be overcome.

Expanding access to immunisation is vital for achieving sustainable development goals, poverty reduction and universal health coverage. Routine immunisation provides a point of contact for health care at the beginning of life and offers every child the chance at a healthy life from the earliest beginnings and into a graceful old age.

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