Celebration of 50th anniversary of the Expanded Immunization Programmme in Sao Tome and Principe

The celebration of 2024 African Vaccination Week was launched on 3rd May in the community of Madalena, in the district of Mé-zochi.

The event organized by the Minister of Health, Ângela COSTA, was attended by the President of the District Chamber of Mé-zochi, Anahory Dias, WHO Resident Representative, Dr. Françoise BIGIRIMANA, health professionals, partners and the community of Madalena. The special event also included a health fair with exhibition of health and promotive materials, prevention and care services for the community of Madalena that benefited free of charge primary health care, out-patient consultations, gyneco obstetrics services, Sexual and Reproductive services, lab exams, ultrasounds, and treatments.

This year the world is also celebrating the 50th years of the creation of the Expanded Immunization Programme (EPI). In São Tomé and Príncipe, it is the 46th anniversary of EPI.

Among key results of the immunization program, São Tomé and Príncipe eliminated wild Polio and interrupted cases of measle. In fact, the country recorded its last case of polio in 1982 and measles in 1994.

For many years, São Tomé and Príncipe has been at the forefront of vaccination coverage in the central Africa sub-region, for example, Pentavalent 3 vaccine coverage was 94% compared to 74% for the region in 2019 (source: WHO Report 2019). 

The WHO Representative, Dr. Françoise BIGIRIMANA congratulated Sao Tome and Principe for the good performance and said, “This is the result of high political leadership, the commitment of the authorities, the partners, the health professionals, parents and community leaders.”

During the three coming weeks community health workers and health professionals are engaged to identify and vaccinate children with zero doses or incomplete vaccinations in the districts. The focus will be on the lowest performant districts in terms of vaccination in the country, namely the district of Mé- zochi, Lobata and Água-Grande.

Lowest performant districts are leading the reduction the vaccination coverage in the country. In fact, in the last four years, the country has seen a reduction in vaccination coverage from 94% in 2019 to 86% in 2023 for Pentavalent 3, aggravated by the COVID pandemic during 2021 and 2022 (source: national EPI report)

Regarding the children fully vaccinated in the country the numbers also dropped from 70.2% in 2017 to 65.2% in 2023 (source: National Vaccination Coverage Survey – ICV 2023).

If the country continues to drop the vaccination coverage, there is the risk of outbreaks as said the WHO representative.  Minister Health, Angela Costa, called for a higher engagement of health professionals, parents and partners to increase vaccination coverage.

The event was also an opportunity for the minister of health to publicly recognize the efforts of best performant professionals including nurses, doctors, drivers, and Cantagalo as the best performing district in immunization.

WHO Representative, Dr. Françoise BIGIRIMANA, stated during her speech that WHO is committed to reinforce the technical support through mentoring and capacity building of Expanded Immunization Programme and districts teams to improve vaccination coverage, supervision, and production of quality data. The support will include the development of a new national vaccination strategy “with innovative approaches to reach the regional and global targets aligned to 2030 goals of vaccination”.

The celebration of 50 years of EPI was an opportunity to highlight that globally, during the last 50 years, vaccination has always been at the forefront of global health efforts, saving millions of lives! Just in Africa it is estimated that 51.2 million lives have been saved through vaccination. For every infant life saved over that period, life expectancy was increased to 60 years and above, according to World Health Organization (source: Safeguarding Our Future: Humanly Possible report).

Among the main results of EPI in the world are the eradication of smallpox in 1979 and wild poliovirus in 2020. The vaccination has also reduced drastically deaths caused by meningitis by 39% between 2000 and 2019 in Africa. Since 2017, no cases of meningitis caused by the type A strain have been found. The progress made in eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus in Africa region has also been commendable.

The rollout of new vaccines such as the first ever malaria vaccine, has also set up a new hope of future generations in Africa free of malaria. More than 30 countries in the African region have already expressed their interest in the malaria vaccine and scheduled to roll it out by the end of 2024.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Sao Tome and Principe.

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