Immunization in Africa

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Since agreeing to ambitious and unprecedented commitments in the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) in 2012, African countries have reached millions more children with life-saving vaccines. There have been a number of successes since the launch of the GVAP that illustrate the power of vaccines: Africa celebrated one year without a case of polio in August 2015, a historic milestone and an important step toward making Africa polio-free forever. The ground breaking MenAfriVac vaccine, a vaccine specifically developed for use in Sub-Saharan Africa, was introduced in 2010, and more than 220 million people in 15 countries had been protected against group A meningitis by the end of 2014.  

Now is the time for governments, in close collaboration with civil society, the private sector and other partners to redouble efforts to build strong, sustainable, inclusive immunization systems. No child should die or be sickened by vaccine-preventable diseases. The 1st Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa sought commitments and solutions to make this a reality. 


The immunization coverage for the WHO-AFRO region was 77% in 2014 with 18 Member States reporting coverage of at least 90% at the national level. Immunization coverage is measured as the proportion of infants who have received their third dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis-containing vaccine (DTP3). 

For the WHO-EMRO region, 5 out of the 7 African countries had immunization coverage (DTP3 coverage) higher than 90% at the national level. Similarly, 5 out of the 7 African countries had MCV1 coverage higher than 90% at the national level.

Some of the major achievements of the African nations in the context of delivering immunization services include the following:

Africa’s success in interrupting polio transmission
Africa celebrated one year without a case of polio in August 2015, a historic milestone and an important step toward making Africa polio-free forever.

More than 220 million people immunized against Meningitis A
By the end of 2014, 15 countries in the African Meningitis belt had collectively immunized more than 220 million people against Meningitis A.

Significant strides in the introduction of other new and underutilized vaccines
Various countries on the African continent have introduced vaccines against hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type B and yellow fever.

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and the rotavirus vaccine have been introduced by 35 and 27 countries, respectively. 

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine introduction
The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine has been successfully introduced in 5 African countries and demonstration projects of the HPV vaccine have been initiated in 15 others.


But overall, access to vaccines has stagnated in Africa during the last three years. Today one in five children in the African Region do not receive the vaccines they need, and Africa is on track to achieve just one of the six targets agreed as part of GVAP in 2012. Children’s lives depend upon reaching these targets.

Major challenges facing African countries in the context of delivering immunization services include the following:

Weak health systems and lack of financial sustainability
Weak health systems, inadequate infrastructure, lack of sufficient inter-sectoral collaboration, and weak coordination for the provision of vaccines to the people who need them most are some of the major challenges facing African countries. Additionally, inadequate funding for immunization programs & mechanisms for financial sustainability and frequent shortages of vaccines are some of the other obstacles.

Inequity gap in immunization coverage
Although some countries have managed to reduce the inequity gap, lower education levels, lower incomes, higher distribution of country populations in rural areas, failure of community outreach to generate sustainable demand, etc. have resulted in lower levels of immunization coverage amongst and within communities.

Fragile environment
Despite the success in increasing the immunization coverage and introducing new and underutilized vaccines, the African continent is still grappling with challenges such as gaps in population immunity and surveillance as well as insecurity in several countries.


The Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011-2020 (GVAP) is a framework to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 through more equitable access to vaccines. The GVAP, which was endorsed by all 194 Member States at the 2014 World Health Assembly in May 2012, aims to ensure that all people in all communities have access to the vaccines they need.

The GVAP is a product of the Decade of Vaccines Collaboration, which brought together development, health and immunization experts and stakeholders in an unprecedented effort. To extend immunization to everyone, the GVAP seeks to ensure adequate resources, develop supportive health systems and infrastructure, and work with countries to train needed health workers.

The Global Vaccine Action Plan set six strategic objectives for the world to achieve by 2020 in order to save millions of lives, avert hundreds of millions of cases, and save billions of dollars. These objectives provide guidance for the global vaccines community as it works to achieve the goals of the Decade of Vaccines and reduce child mortality.

The full plan (including an executive summary) is available here.

Regional Plans

To complement the GVAP, each region developed its own detailed, specific plan to achieve the agreed goals and ensure that every child is protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

African Region: Regional Strategic Plan for Immunization 2014-2020

This plan addresses the challenges that the 47 countries of the WHO AFRO region need to overcome to provide universal access to immunization by 2020, ensuring that every child born in the African Region is protected against deadly diseases for which safe and effective vaccines exist or will be brought to the market between 2014 and 2020. Specifically, the plan calls for the achievement of the following objectives:

  • Improve immunization coverage beyond current levels
  • Complete interruption of poliovirus transmission
  • Attain elimination of measles and make progress in elimination of rubella
  • Attain and maintain elimination/control of other vaccine-preventable diseases

The full plan is available here.