Addis Ababa (AFP) - One in five children in Africa do not receive basic life-saving vaccines, despite the continent making great strides on immunisation, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report Wednesday.
The report noted a dramatic rise in child vaccination rates, from 57 percent in 2000 to 80 percent in 2014, but said more needed to be done to prevent the spread of diseases such as measles, rubella and neonatal tetanus that have been virtually eradicated in some parts of the world but remain prevalent and deadly in Africa.
"We can and must do more to protect all our children from devastating illnesses – not only because it is our responsibility to ensure healthier futures for our citizens, but also because it is a smart economic decision," said Kesetebirhan Admasu, health minister of Ethiopia which is hosting a two-day summit on immunisation in Africa starting Thursday.
"For Africa to achieve its full potential and secure a bright future, we must unite to ensure that every child on the continent receives the vaccines he or she needs to survive and thrive," said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
"It is unacceptable that one in five African children lack access to life-saving vaccines, and this report is an urgent wake-up call to Africans of all walks of life and at every level," she said.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said global pharmaceutical companies should be taken to task for charging "inflated vaccine prices" that keep the drugs out of reach of the world's poorest and most vulnerable.
"If vaccine prices continue to spiral out of control, we will continue to see countries in Africa and around the world faced with difficult decisions about which deadly diseases they can and can't afford to protect their children against," said Myriam Henkens, MSF's international medical coordinator.
"Ministers at this conference literally can't afford to waste this opportunity to again speak out against high prices and push for change," she said.