Photo: Hon. Elene Tine, Senegalese Parliamentarian and Parliamentary Coalition President at the Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa. Photo courtesy of DFA/WHO

Ten parliamentarians representing nine countries came together last month at the Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to declare their commitment to strengthening immunization programs through advocacy, legislation and continent-wide collaboration.

Led by Hon. Gregoire Lusenge, a parliamentarian from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the members of parliament (MPs) drafted a Parliamentary Statement, which they signed and presented at the close of the conference. The 10 signatories have already demonstrated their commitment to immunization in their respective countries. Invited to the Conference by the World Health Organization Regional Office, they brought their experience in drafting legislation, advocating for increased immunization budgets and developing novel immunization financing mechanisms.

In their statement, the parliamentarians pledge to “champion the increased uptake of immunization services” and “support the enactment of legislation to ensure sustainable financing of immunization programs,” much like Uganda’s parliament has done. Signatory Hon. Oleru Huda, MP from Uganda, was the strongest parliamentary champion for that country’s immunization bill, which the parliament passed in late 2015, more than four years after they began the drafting process. Once signed into law, this legislation will enforce compulsory immunization and establish an immunization fund, an important step toward full domestic financing of immunization.

The statement also includes a commitment to, “establishing or strengthening national parliamentary caucuses on immunization for stronger advocacy towards increased domestic investments for the health sector and immunization for sustainable and performing immunization programs.” Several countries, such as DRC, Senegal and Uganda, have already established parliamentary caucuses or networks, which have proved to be strong force for change.

Hon. Lusenge, who drafted the group’s initial statement, established the Parliamentary Support Network for Immunization in DRC in 2012 and was appointed to be its president. The Network is an ever expanding advocacy coalition of 50 parliamentarians, ministry officials, immunization program staff and partners. Through the Network, MPs have traveled to eight of DRC’s 11 provinces to urge subnational leaders to allocate more funds for immunization. The Network’s visits have resulted in commitments from each of these provinces’ leaders to increase their immunization budgets.

Perhaps most importantly, MPs committed to “establishing the African Parliamentary Caucus for Immunization” to share best practices “for sustainable and performing immunization programs.” Given the effectiveness of national parliamentary caucuses like the one in DRC, an Africa-wide network of parliamentarians could dramatically accelerate progress toward the African Regional Strategic Plan for Immunization objectives. And with these experienced lawmakers at the helm, the group could become a powerful new voice for country ownership of African immunization programs.

Read the full Parliamentary Statement.