Friday, March 19, 2010

Health Ministry Bags International Award

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) has has given an award to the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) a Component of Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) in Banjul, for its “consistent high immunization coverage over the past five years”.
The Gambia, according to GAVI, is the second country in Africa to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine into the routine immunization programme, after Rwanda.
A presentation ceremony was held at the Ministry’s conference hall recently, to hand over the award to the national health authorities.
Chairing the ceremony, Ramou Cole-Ceesay, assistant director Family Health, said the presentation of the award to Gambian authorities is for their “dedication to health concerns”.
Giving a brief history of the EPI’s programme, Mrs Cole-Ceesay added that the EPI is one of the 13 technical units of the health ministry, estabilshed way back in 1976 following an outbreak of yellow fever in the country.
Since then the EPI has added various vaccines to its arsenal for yellow fever, measles etc., noting that the EPI now has more than ten vaccines.
According to her, the EPI has involved progressively in giving vaccines to Gambians and non-Gambians living in the country. The health sector has stood firmly to curb the menace of diseases that kill children under 5 years, thanks to the Gambia government, she declared.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised the efforts of the government as one of the best in Africa, in terms of implementing its health programmes. Yamundow Jallow manager EPI programme, giving background information on the EPI, said it was in 1979 when the primary health care (PHC) was adopted when the EPI was born. According to her, the EPI is currently targeting mealses, Diptheria, pertusis (whooping cough), tetanus, yellow fever, hepatitis heamophilus influenza type B and pneuococcus with as many as ten vaccines, noting that all this contributes to achieving the MDGs.
On programme strategies, she said they have fixed or static clinics, mobile clinics or outreach and National Immunisation Days (NIDS) all geared toward ensuring that the children in the country get vaccines at the right time. The target population varies from children 0-24 months of age to mothers of child-bearing age, that is, 15 –49 years of age.
“As I am speaking at this ceremony, since 1994 to date there have been no single day when a vaccine is out of stock”. She added that all drugs imported into the country are recommended by UNICEF and WHO, and that “all these vaccines are quality stocks”. Vaccines for the programme are all ordered though UNICEF to ensure quality stocks, she further noted.
Citing some of the achievements, Mrs. Jallow said that for the past five years, the county ha achieved 85 percent coverage on vaccines. “We have switched from kerosene to solar refrigerators in 1988, attainment of polio free status in 2004, attainment of NNT elimination status in 2002, no laboratory confirmed measles cases since 2003 and no laboratory confirmed yellow fever cases since 1979.
On some of the challenges, she revealed that the maintenance of high immunization coverage, mobilization of adequate resources for EPI and inadequate trained human resources at all level are some of the challenges.
She gave the following recommendations: increase financial resources for EPI, continue training or retraining of staff and strengthen collaboration with partners for improved immunization services.
Receiving the award on behalf of the ministry, Sekou Omar Toure, permanent secretary said that despite the challenges, the Gambia is ranked high under the EPI.
He added that it has always been a core priority of the Health ministry, and that a lot has been done and still more needs to be done in terms of service expansion to the doorsteps of the people.

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