Health official and EPI reveal why Ghana took unprecedented decision to introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines simultaneously
Ghana’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation Manager, Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei is responsible for the simultaneous rollout of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines. Photo credit: Doune Porter/PATH/2012
Accra, Ghana, 30 March 2012- When Ghana made an unprecedented application to the GAVI Alliance to introduce both pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines at the same time, officials within the Ghana Health Service and the Expanded Programme on Immunisation knew there would be eyebrows raised.
“I’m sure the GAVI Secretariat didn’t believe that we in Ghana would be able to do it. But we were able to convince them that this is the way for us to go”, says Executive Director of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Frank Nyonator.
Robust health systems
“We consider our health systems to be robust enough. We have been attaining over 80 per cent of immunisation coverage over the years. And so we felt so confident that we should be able to introduce additional vaccines that will save the lives of our children.”
Pneumonia and severe infant diarrhoea each account for approximately ten per cent of under-five deaths in the country, and introducing vaccines to combat these two killer diseases was a priority.
“These diseases are killing our children,” says Ghana’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation Manager, Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei, “There are vaccines that can help to prevent them, so why not address both of the diseases at once?”
Decision to apply
"The decision to apply was based on sound reasoning," says Dr. Antwi-Agyei.
“We are making progress to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4, but if we really want to get there, we cannot continue with business as usual. So we were looking at our problem, our MDG 4 target, and at which are the major killers and where can we get the most benefit, and we saw that vaccine preventable diseases is an area that will yield a lot of dividends.”
Waiting for news of their application did give Ghana’s health team some anxious moments.
“I am actually on the Independent Review Committee that reviews applications,” says Dr. Nyonator.
“When Ghana’s application was under review, I was in Geneva, sitting on another panel for a different country. I was so anxious, and when I came out at the end of the day, I was asking all my colleagues, ‘Did Ghana make it?’ Well, everyone kept a poker face. But on the last day, I found out that Ghana had been approved for the two new vaccines. And that was really exciting – immediately I had to send a message back home to say – “Look! We’ve made it! Let’s start preparations right away!”