Vaccines bring hope to Tanzania's children
Over the past few weeks excitement has been building for the upcoming GAVI Partners Forum that took place in Tanzania. This is the 5th GAVI Partners Forum, a meeting that brings together a range of stakeholders including implementing country officials, technical agencies, donors, the private sector and civil society. The meeting was organized around the central themes of Results, Innovation, Sustainability and Equity and provided an important platform to discuss and strategise about how immunization programs can be expanded even further within developing countries as a critical tool to decrease childhood morbidity and mortality.
Attending the Partners Forum provided me with an opportunity to visit Tanzania for the first time. I was struck by the beauty of the country and from a public health perspective it was inspiring to witness first hand that, despite resource shortages both financial and human, there is a high level of commitment to improving health outcomes, particularly through immunization. I had the chance to participate in a field visit to Sinza Hospital a facility on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam. It was an impressive facility providing a wide range of services to a catchment area of approximately 500 000 people.
Sinza Hospital has actively worked to increase the coverage and uptake of vaccination services in the community realizing that this is one of the most effective interventions in ensuring increased child health. Mother classes and awareness-raising activities are conducted on the importance of vaccinations for women and caregivers, and outreach vaccination services are delivered directly in the community each week. The awareness-raising activities are clearly having an impact as the waiting room at Sinza Hospital, for example, was filled to capacity with mothers and care givers and their children, each one waiting for their chance to see a health care worker.
Despite the improvements in vaccine coverage, Tanzania is still struggling with high levels of child morbidity and mortality due to the two leading killers of children under five—pneumonia and diarrheal disease. The GAVI Partners Forum was a momentous occasion in Tanzania because it marked the dual introduction of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines which is set to have a significant impact in terms of addressing the two leading causes of under-five mortality in the country.
The vaccines' launch, the country's hosting of the GAVI Partners' Forum, as well as my visit to the local hospital reiterated the importance of vaccines as a critical component in the package of health care interventions needed to protect children. The healthcare workers at the facility are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new vaccines and have undertaken an extensive amount of work at both the facility and community level to increase awareness and generate demand. The focus on community engagement and empowerment has been an effective vehicle to increase the uptake of health services and vaccines. I left Sinza Hospital with a real sense of hope that 2013 will bring with it further improvements in child survival as the new vaccines are rolled out nationally as of January.