This post was originally published on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's blog, Impatient Optimist.
By Hélène Mambu-ma-Disu, Senior Program Officer for Sabin's Sustainable Immunization Financing Program
”Immunization is a powerful protection arm.” — Honorable Gregoire LUSENGE, coordinator of the Réseau des Parlementaires Congolais pour l’Appui a la Vaccination
In 2012, leaders from the international vaccine community put forth a challenge to the world: Extend the benefit of immunization to all people, regardless of where they live, by the year 2020. This framework, known as the Decade of Vaccines Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), has taken hold in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) —- a country whose government has increased its national immunization financing commitments by $8 million over three years. This commitment is remarkable considering that just four years ago the government was allocating little or no funding for immunization.
Lasting health solutions that benefit all citizens can only truly be achieved when that nation fully finances its health programs. Staying true to this mission, the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Sustainable Immunization Financing (SIF) Program is supporting countries like DRC in their efforts to fully fund their national immunization programs in a sustainable manner — an effort that has seen unprecedented commitments from the national government.
As a SIF Senior Program Officer in the DRC, I have witnessed an incredible shift over the past five years. In 2009, I went to the National Assembly to brief members of the sociocultural commission on the importance of immunization in childhood. The Members of Parliament (MPs) were extremely skeptical, and one MP even tried to kick me out of the meeting.
Today, DRC is a different place; there is even a parliamentarian network here to support immunization activities and defend the immunization budget at the National Assembly, advocate for routine immunization budget increases and travel to the sub-national level to advocate for immunization financing and use.
These efforts have led to a strengthened commitment to country immunization program ownership and a marked increase in vaccination coverage levels; diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccination coverage has increased 10 percent in the last seven years, from 62 percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2012.
The parliamentarians’ advocacy activities are supported and strengthened by briefings sponsored by SIF and led by the Ministry of Health. The World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and NGOs are also involved in this effort.
And, DRC’s success has been data-driven. Since 2012, government counterparts in DRC have been working with Sabin’s Immunization Budget Flow Sheet, a simple Excel document that evaluates the immunization program budget performance. The data collected in this exercise allows budgetary decision makers to identify bottlenecks within the government’s budget management systems. Performed annually, the budget flow exercise has proven to be an extremely useful advocacy tool for parliamentarians and government counterparts alike to defend the national immunization budget.
As countries like DRC continue to make progress toward self-financing and sustainable immunization coverage, I’m optimistic the global community can answer the call of the GVAP and achieve greater worldwide immunization coverage by 2020.