Summer Confessions of a PATH advocacy officer
As many of us wrap up our summer vacations and head back to work and school, the usual conversations center around what everyone did over the summer. Much like in the US, summer in my country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), includes all of the typical activities: rest, relaxation, and time spent with family and friends. It's a time of joie de vivre, cheerfulness, and happy fond memories.
I have to admit, this wasn't a typical summer for me; I spent my time advocating for the families and children of DRC. Nevertheless, it was quite memorable, eventful, and full of celebratory moments.
You're probably confused: summer, work, and joy aren't your typical combination. Well, this mix of such unusual summer activities makes for an interesting story that I'm eager to share with you.
Working for PATH in DRC, I am privileged to partner alongside some of the most committed, passionate and dedicated advocates on the frontlines of health. We spent our summers working tirelessly with parliamentarians and other key partners to build political will and support for sustained investments in immunization.
In DRC, the government has long committed and pledged to do more to increase access to essential vaccines so that all Congolese women, newborns, and children lead happy, healthy lives. At the first-ever ministerial conference on immunization this past February, the Minister of Health Dr. Félix Kabange Numbi Mukwampa endorsed a declaration to prioritize domestic resources for vaccines and promote equitable immunization coverage.
As part of last year's (2015) co-fund for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, our government committed $US8.37 million for immunization programs. However, this amount proved to be a tremendous burden for our resource-strapped ministry and country. But as advocates we were not slowed. We worked with the government to find a solution: make partial payments one at a time to eventually reach the full amount. I am happy to report that this approach worked, and in July our government released almost $2million for vaccines to be purchased by Gavi and UNICEF. This disbursement is a huge milestone to prioritize the resources needed to protect our women, newborns, and children.
During my summer, I worked to keep up the momentum and pressure to remind leaders to fulfill their promises to their fellow Congolese brothers and sisters. However, our advocacy efforts are far from over. Funding shortfalls continue to hinder access to immunization programs, particularly in rural provinces. Some provincial health centers have been forced to stop immunization activities due to limited resources to store and deliver vaccines. Health officials are working to contain a yellow fever outbreak and we are hoping to introduce the Rotavirus vaccine next year.
What will you do before next summer? I will keep up the steady drumbeat and continue to hold government officials accountable for their promises and actions. We will not rest until all Congolese, no matter where they live, can plan memorable, joyful, disease-free summer holidays.
Photo credit: Siri Wood.