Vaccination, the most cost-effective healthcare intervention preventing morbidity and mortality associated with VPDs, has been estimated to prevent between two and three million deaths annually. The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), launched by the WHO in 1974, was originally designed to deliver vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles and tuberculosis. Twenty years later, more than 70% of the world’s population were receiving these vaccines. Since 1994, global vaccination coverage against these diseases has increased only slightly. Hepatitis B vaccination has been increasingly incorporated into national vaccination programmes, resulting in a dramatic rise in global coverage from less than 10% in 1994 to more than 80% in 2014. Similarly, vaccination coverage against Haemophilus influenzae type b, introduced in 1994, had risen to more than 55% by 2014. Other new vaccines have been developed or improved, e.g. vaccines against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, rotavirus diarrhoea and pneumococcal disease, that will further reduce the infectious disease burden. The widespread use of vaccination has contributed greatly to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal Target 4 of reducing global childhood mortality by two-thirds by 2015, with measles vaccination alone resulting in a 79% global drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2014.
As new vaccines become available, countries face many challenges in introducing these vaccines into their existing immunisation programmes. These include decision-making and prioritisation of these vaccines against other competing health programmes; addressing strengths and weaknesses in the immunisation programme; managing more complicated vaccination schedules; developing multi-year plans to ensure sustainable use of the new vaccines; integration of these vaccines in the broader context of health systems; and building and maintaining public trust in these vaccines. Thus, continued and increased efforts are required not only to accelerate action to vaccinate children against VPDs, but to reach and maintain high vaccination coverage.
The role and input of universities responsible for research, education and training of HCWs in the prevention and control of VPDs, cannot be underestimated. SAVIC was established in 2003 at the Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA), which subsequently became the Medunsa Campus of the University of Limpopo and is now the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU), as a network of partners in the field of vaccination and immunisation. Since its inception, SAVIC has worked very closely with NESI, and has functioned as a NESI focal office for the southern African region, since January 2012.