During the last week in June, more than 200 members of the global immunization community, including stakeholders, partners and regional and country representatives, gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, for the 2018 Global Immunization Meeting. The theme of this year’s meeting was “navigating transitions.” Attendees discussed successes and challenges in immunization related to programmatic transitions, exchanged ideas, and considered how to achieve immunization program goals following the end of the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) in 2020.

As the long-overdue goal of polio eradication draws near, the infrastructure developed as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative – including disease surveillance, vaccine delivery and professional development – will be transitioned to other immunization- and infectious disease-related initiatives. In addition, 16 countries must assume greater responsibility for financing their immunization programs as their growing economies trigger an accelerated transition phase and reduction of financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Over the next five years, these countries will be expected to fully self-finance their vaccines, with support from Gavi to identify bottlenecks and support interventions.

Jointly hosted by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the meeting brought stakeholders together to discuss these and other transitions through mixed interactive sessions with debates, panel discussions, technical workshops and breakfasts with experts. Rather than focusing on routine immunization strengthening and the implementation of new and under-utilized vaccines, sessions instead emphasized how immunization programs must adapt, innovate and respond to the changing context of the world in which we live. “This [meeting] is truly an opportunity to learn from each other on the successes and challenges we face in our immunization programs, given the various transitions both big and small,” said Honorable Dr. Diane Gashumba, Minister of Health for Rwanda. “We should all honor the commitment to improve child survival and the development of equitable and integrated access to services as a fundamental human rights issue.”

On the first day of the meeting, Dr. Bruce Gellin, president of global immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, represented Sabin’s IAIM Network in a session entitled, “Transitions in Training.” Focusing on capacity building, this lively session brought together a variety of global immunization stakeholders, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Gavi and various implementing partners to discuss innovations in capacity building for immunization managers. A wide variety of new approaches to capacity building were presented and ranged from in-person mentoring and supportive supervision to online learning opportunities, to short technical training videos designed for use in the field. Using the PechaKucha presentation format of 20x20 (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide), Dr. Gellin emphasized the IAIM Network’s goal of connecting immunization managers around the world to learn from one another and share best practices. “The opportunity to share experiences creates strong networks and immunization managers who feel that they are part of something bigger,” said Dr. Gellin. He also highlighted Sabin’s efforts to give immunization managers a seat at the table. As immunization managers seek opportunities to be involved in the decision-making process at the regional and global level, the Network aims to amplify their voices by inviting them to share their expertise at topic-specific meetings.

Another highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Ola and Anna Rosling, who along with Hans Rosling, founded the Gapminder Foundation. In a presentation that incorporated population and public health data, they challenged major misconceptions about the state of the world today and demonstrated that trends in global health are more positive than we think. They also showcased Dollar Street, a tool that allows users to visualize income differences around the world. On the importance of using data for immunization, Robin Nandy, Principal Adviser and Chief of Immunization, UNICEF, said, “Although we discuss so much about the lack of quality data, we fail to use the data we have in hand. If we don’t use what we have, what would better quality data result in?”

Over the three days of the meeting, stakeholders discussed how to improve coverage, address inequities and introduce new vaccines and innovative technologies. The meeting provided an opportunity to reflect on the changing global context and as Ted Maly, UNICEF Rwanda Representative, said, “consider how immunization will be positioned in the ongoing efforts to attain the sustainable development goals, the post-polio era and the move towards universal health care.”

Videos of the plenary sessions as well as the complete agenda can be found on the GIM website.