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Immunisation has saved over 51m lives in Africa – WHO

Immunisation has saved over 51m lives in Africa – WHO

An estimated 51.2 million lives have been saved in the African region over the past 50 years, according to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and The Lancet.

The study published on Wednesday shows that immunisation is the single greatest contribution of any health intervention to ensuring babies not only see their first birthdays but continue leading healthy lives into adulthood.

For every infant life saved over that period, close to 60 years of life are lived, a new report by the WHO finds.

Of the vaccines included in the study, the measles vaccination had the most significant impact on reducing infant mortality, accounting for 60 percent of the lives saved due to immunisation. This vaccine will likely remain the top contributor to preventing deaths in the future, according to the WHO.

The health body stated that the achievements have been possible under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), a WHO initiative launched in 1974 as a global endeavour to ensure equitable access to life-saving vaccines for every child, regardless of their geographic location or socioeconomic status.

Notable achievements have been made, including a reduction in measles deaths, with an estimated 19.5 million deaths averted over the last 22 years, the study showed.

The region has also witnessed a sharp decline in meningitis deaths by up to 39 percent in 2019 compared with 2000. Maternal and neonatal tetanus has nearly been eliminated in the region, and in a historic public health achievement, the African region was declared free of indigenous wild poliovirus in 2022.

The study also found that most countries in Africa provide antigens for 13 vaccine-preventable diseases, up from the initial six when the EPI was introduced.