IMMUNIZATION AGENDA 2030:
Leveraging the global response to COVID-19 to strengthen health systems and build back better
Charlotte Mbuh from The Geneva Learning Foundation took the floor in today's United Nations General Assembly side event dedicated to Immunization Agenda 2030.
Here is the full text of her message.
I worked for ten years in Ebolowa, South Region of Cameroon, in my country’s immunization programme. When the pandemic hit, I joined more than 6,000 fellow immunization professionals to create the COVID-19 Peer Hub. Most of us were from Asian and African countries, working in health facilities and districts. We pledged to support each other. In the first 10 days, we shared over 1,200 ideas and practices that were helping us face the consequences of the pandemic.
Building on each other’s successes, lessons learned, and challenges, we have worked ever since to turn these ideas into practice, results, and ultimately impact.
By the end of 2020, one third of participants had already implemented and documented tangible improvements to support the recovery of immunization services.
Let me tell you about my colleague, Dr Franck Monga, a District Medical Officer in Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Using only locally-available resources, Franck set up a system to reduce missed opportunities for routine immunization, a dashboard to track vaccination sessions, and regular follow-up with the community to find zero dose children.
Franck did this using ideas and feedback from peers in neighboring Nigeria and Cameroon but also from Pakistan and Indonesia. His motivation and effort turned around the district’s performance, strengthening resilience for when the pandemic hit.
We realized that we had the means to directly reach, engage, and connect with other professionals working where immunization and other health targets are either achieved or not. In the face of the unknown, we learned to trust and rely on each other, across barriers of geography, roles, gender, and health system levels. We realized that what we know about our challenges, no one else knows.
That is why the IA2030 principles that we have heard about today are so important – particularly leadership by people who deliver vaccines and genuine collaboration across subnational, national, regional and global levels.
Yes, our mission remains to carry out our ministry’s plan. But to do so requires us to deploy not only new skills, but also new kinds of leadership, to exercise critical thinking, to adapt and tailor our action hand in hand with the communities we serve.
Our innovation is local. It is not about big technology solutions, but about small, significant improvements. Our solutions may seem mundane, but they are the ones that actually helped us to keep vaccination going in the face of the pandemic.
Being connected to one another, engaging directly in two-way dialogue with global experts, is transforming our own mindset. We see immunization as an entry point, a marker of equity of all health services and for primary health care.
Yes, immunization staff the world over – and the societies we live in – are still reeling from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now is not the time to buckle or falter. Immunization Agenda 2030 gives a common goal and encourages us to lead the change needed to get there. In this time of global crisis, thinking and acting strategically can help each of us stay focused on the global immunization goals, keeping us on the path to equitable immunization coverage for everyone. Focus could make the difference between short-term Pyrrhic recovery and building back better.
When we vaccinate to protect from disease and death, it is an expression of the deep love we feel for the health of the families and communities we serve. It is because we care that we are ready to take up the challenge of Immunization Agenda 2030. In April 2021, over 5,000 of us gathered to explore how we can a new kind of movement to ensure that immunization remains high on global and regional health agendas in support of countries. My question to global leaders: will you support health professionals who ‘opt in’ to go above and beyond what their job description says, who are willing to take risks to make a difference?