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Celebrating progress and looking ahead this World Immunization Week

By Celina Kareiva, Communications Associate, BID Initiative

Apr 27, 2018

Posted in , , ,

Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Riccardo Gangale. A young patient is vaccinated in Tanzania.

During a recent visit, Regina Chilekwa, a nurse at Mahatma Gandhi Clinic in Livingstone, Zambia, sat with a patient and talked her through the vaccines her young son needed to keep him protected. Every year, at the end of April, the global health community celebrates World Immunization Week, a chance to spotlight the incredible potential of vaccines, progress toward closing the immunization gap, and to advocate for the gains that still must be made. Closing the immunization gap requires all hands on deck. And while coverage has improved greatly in the last few decades, it has recently stagnated. Twenty percent of children still face barriers to vaccination, ranging from a lack of access to services, to weak health information systems, long travel times between facilities, and vaccine stockouts.

In the absence of easy-to-access and actionable data on what is impeding improvement of immunization coverage and equity, health workers must rely on incomplete and often anecdotal data that do not reflect the actual issues. However, a growing appreciation for data and innovative new tools for capturing and making use of that data are breaking down these barriers.

This World Immunization Week, BID is able to point to the successful rollout and implementation of a suite of interventions at scale in both Tanzania and Zambia. These interventions address some of the most pressing routine immunization service delivery challenges, using – among other solutions – an electronic immunization registry (EIR), change management strategies and data use campaigns.

Below are several immunization facts from the global health community, and a glimpse of how BID is empowering health workers to use quality data to provide better health services and reach more kids with life-saving vaccines.

Immunization prevents between 2-3 million deaths every year. It’s no secret that immunization is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions of our time. However, health workers haven’t always been able to make meaningful sense of their immunization data. In Tanzania and Zambia EIRs are replacing systems of manual record-keeping and helping to track all vaccine-eligible children, allowing health workers to more accurately identify and plan for where services are needed most. In the long-term, this will help decrease the number of vaccine-preventable deaths.

More children are being immunized than ever before. An estimated 116.5 million children under the age of one received three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DPT3) vaccine in 2016. EIRs and other digital tools help health workers establish a more accurate picture of the children in their catchment area. For instance, bar codes and QR codes on child health cards help identify patients as they move through the health system, establishing a comprehensive picture of children’s vaccine histories, even when they visit neighboring facilities.

An estimated 19.5 million children under the age of one did not receive DTP3 vaccine. In understaffed health facilities with large patient volumes, it’s easy for patients to slip through the cracks. But a missed vaccine can have serious consequences. EIRs help health workers pinpoint patients who have missed a vaccine and bring them back into the facility before it’s too late.

An additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global vaccination coverage improves. Imagine visiting a clinic only to discover that the vaccine you required was out of stock. In many low- and middle-income countries this all too common occurrence has contributed to gaps in immunization coverage. Discrepancies between the number of vaccines administered and stock data sometimes meant that health workers had to turn patients away. Stock management features of the EIRs in both Tanzania and Zambia, however, allow for a more accurate snapshot of stock levels.

BID will continue to advocate for and work towards the strengthening of routine immunization, while accelerating digital solutions to control vaccine-preventable diseases. Follow the discussion this World Immunization Week on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtags #ProtectedTogether and #VaccinesWork.

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