Weak Vaccine-Preventable Disease Surveillance Could Cost the African Region $22.4 billion, WHO Warns

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The failure by African countries to invest in disease surveillance could lead to drastic consequences over the next decade, the World Health Organization has warned.

The agency estimates that weak surveillance efforts would cost the continent a US$22.4 billion economic burden over the next decade.

The caution is contained in the WHO newly launched frameworkInvestment Case for Vaccine-Preventable Disease Surveillance in the African Region, 2020-2030. The  high-level framework is applicable to all countries in Africa and sets forth an ambitious vision for vaccine preventable surveillance.

The framework further indicates that if current disease surveillance efforts are not maintained, there is a risk of reversal in progress made, leading to more than 900,000 deaths.

 “Strong surveillance is the backbone of a functioning health information system, empowering health workers with timely, quality evidence to inform decision-making,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

 “To curb the spread of life-threatening diseases, governments must invest in strong and functioning surveillance systems,” added Dr. Moeti, while launching the framework recently.

Over the past five years, immunization coverage in sub-Saharan Africa has stagnated at 72%, exposing populations to vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks.

In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 31 million children younger than five years suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases every year. More than a half million of them die due to lack of access to the vaccines they needed.

In a statement, WHO said vaccine-preventable disease (VPD) surveillance is a critical component of the integrated disease control strategies. It added that it was an effective way to detect and respond early to outbreaks – mitigating their impact on national security, the local economy and public health systems. Yet, countries in the African region still face major challenges in both the strategic planning and operation of their surveillance systems.

The WHO framework calls for increased domestic investment in VPD surveillance, under the overall umbrella of integrated disease surveillance and response, from countries in the African Region.

With the African region on the brink of polio eradication, VPD surveillance remains an issue yet to be prioritized by many health leaders. The burden of VPDs and associated outbreaks remain a major threat to people across Africa.

“Despite extraordinary progress in boosting vaccine coverage around the world in the past two decades, one and a half million people are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases every year,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The framework further outlines WHO’s ambition for progress by 2030, including the need for increased domestic investment for surveillance activities as well as mobilization of international resources, in order to ensure strong disease surveillance.

At least $470 million in operating costs will be needed over the next decade to reach this ambition. WHO predicts that the investment would save over 700,000 lives, prevent 20 million people from falling ill due to vaccine-preventable diseases, and save US$21 billion over 10 years – estimated to be a 44.6-fold return on investment.  

At the African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa in January 2017, African Heads of State endorsed the Addis Declaration on Immunization (ADI), pledging to ensure that everyone in Africa – regardless of who they are or where they live – receives the full benefits of immunization, and committing to increase political and financial investments in their immunization programmes. Commitment 5 of the ADI outlines the need for “attaining and maintaining high quality surveillance for targeted vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Although Member States have endorsed these commitments and pledged to deliver on universal immunization coverage and high-quality surveillance, challenges remain in achieving immunization and surveillance targets.

“VPD surveillance is not only a valuable investment that will help countries reach immunization targets,” said Dr. Moeti, “it is a critical component of broader goals such as Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals, and is absolutely essential to protecting all of our health security.”

Compiled by Carol Natukunda

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