Child immunization coverage in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rises to 53 percent—a historic gain announced by the President Felix Tshisekedi at the launch of the second Forum on Vaccination and the Eradication of Polio.
The latest vaccine coverage surveys conducted in 2020 by the Kinshasa School of Public Health across 18 provinces revealed a historic increase in immunization coverage—by a total of 22 points. This means that each year, more than 600,000 new children are receiving the full set of vaccines required to protect them.
“Every Congolese child should benefit from universal immunization coverage. We must make this inalienable right a reality in the DRC," declared President Felix Tshisekedi at the Forum, in presence of national leaders, provincial governors and ministers, members of parliament and donors, such the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Between 2020 and 2021, more than US$45 million has been disbursed by the Congolese government for the purchase of vaccines. This financial commitment has been accompanied by the implementation of innovations in Expanded Programme Immunization (EPI) as part of the plan to revive routine immunization, known as the Mashako Plan*, which has significantly improved immunization coverage. Thanks to PATH partnership, the DRC has committed to pay 100 percent of its traditional vaccines.
Low availability of vaccines in the country
According to the 2017-2018 Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS), only 35 percent of children aged 12 to 23 months were fully vaccinated in the country, 45 percent incompletely, and 20 percent had received no vaccines at all. EPI revealed that the major cause of this situation was the low availability of vaccines throughout the country, due to the delay in their financing.
In 2019, at the first Forum on Vaccination and the Eradication of Polio, President Tshisekedi stated: “I have made the commitment to reverse this state of affairs, by working tirelessly.”
The Kinshasa Declaration subsequently signed on July 23, 2019, laid a solid foundation for achieving universal immunization coverage in the DRC. Authorities at all levels of the country committed to increasing and disbursing an immunization budget line to cover the costs of traditional vaccines, meet the co-financing needs of new vaccines, and maintain free immunization.
During the second Forum event this year, supported by PATH DRC, the President launched the second phase of the Mashako plan, called Mashako Plan 2.0, which marks the starting point for an upward revision of ambitions to position the country soon as one of the ’vaccination champions’ in Africa: by 2023, 75 percent of the children under five years-old should be fully vaccinated by the national health system on a routine basis and free of charge.
An immense challenge
“Over the next two years (2022-2023), let's set the course to fully vaccinate three quarters of the children living in the DRC. The challenge is certainly immense—it implies that we must vaccinate at least three million children every year. But we renewed our commitment, and we will face it, as we always do,” the President Tshisekedi concluded.
To make this declaration a reality for all, PATH actively supports vaccine finance mobilization efforts at provincial level, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Hygiene and Prevention—a long-term strategic advocacy work for policy change in the background that culminates in the Fora.
“PATH is pleased to see renewed energy and commitment to the principles of the Kinshasa Declaration,” said Nanthalile Mugala, Chief of Africa Region at PATH, who reminded the audience that: “With the current COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt immunization services, it is critically important that everyone, everywhere, has access to the lifesaving power of vaccines.”
Held on the eve of World Polio Day, this National Forum occurred at a time when the DRC, already certified as free of wild poliovirus circulation, is experiencing cases of polio from vaccine strains of type 2 poliovirus that threaten this certification. Hence the importance of renewing commitments to secure funding for the transition plan of polio eradication program; maintain the gains and achieve certification.
Indisputable evidence demonstrates the benefits of the vaccine as one of the most effective and cost-effective health interventions and inventions that has ever existed. And yet, the chance in the DRC to see every child fully vaccinated before their first birthday is constantly threatened by vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, measles, or yellow fever.
Communities, civil society organizations, religious and traditional leaders, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), health professional associations, and members of parliament should work together to improve the immunization coverage of children living in the DRC and thereby reduce their risk of exposure to deadly diseases.
*Mashako Plan’s key partners and donors are: EPI, Gavi, USAID, BMGF, UNICEF, WHO, The World Bank, Village Reach, Acasus and PATH