In an effort to reverse declining immunization rates with focus on hard-to-reach areas, particularly those accessible only by rivers or mountains, Ghana’s Ministry of Health has collaborated closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to bridge the immunization gap.
The urgency of the situation became apparent when the coverage of the third dose of the pertussis-containing vaccine (DTP3) dropped from an initial 99% to 97% between 2019 and 2020.
According to the WHO, this decline left more than 32,000 children vulnerable to life-threatening infections such as diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. To address this, Ghana’s Health Ministry undertook an intensive three-day drive in July 2022, targeting about 4,200 zero-dose children from remote areas. These areas, consisting of 320 island or riverine communities, had previously been difficult to reach due to geographic obstacles.
“To ensure the success of the campaign, WHO and Ghana’s Ministry of Health procured a dedicated medical boat, which facilitated the transportation of vaccinators to Setomyo’s island community. This move was crucial for reaching communities surrounded by rivers, mountains and valleys that were otherwise inaccessible,” WHO’s report read.
WHO also played a pivotal role in training 90 health workers and community-based volunteers in catch-up strategies. These trained personnel not only identified and immunized children who had missed vaccines but also engaged in outreach efforts to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of vaccination.
A total of 322 localities were targeted during the mop-up vaccination campaign between July 12 and July 15, 2022, resulting in the administration of more than 4,100 vaccine doses, demonstrating the effectiveness of these efforts. With a 7% rise in the number of districts reaching over 90% coverage for DTP3 between 2020 and 2022, Ghana’s commitment to resuming routine immunization produced fruitful results. A 10% rise in the number of districts obtaining over 80% DTP3 coverage within the same period also indicates progress toward vaccine fairness.
Dr. Osei Kuffour Afreh, a Regional Director of Health Services, emphasized the importance of WHO’s intervention, stating, “WHO’s timely intervention of renting boats, providing logistics and technical support for us was critical in restoring immunization services in this region, especially to the island communities, which account for about 30% of the population.”
The impact of improved access to vaccination was felt on an individual level as well. Setornyo, a relieved parent, expressed gratitude for the accessibility of critical vaccinations for her son. “Now my mind is at peace that he has received all the vaccinations he missed,” she said. “I am grateful that the health workers are able to now reach us here, without us having to go to them.”
WHO has also vowed to actively oversee the construction of three additional medical boats to ensure sustained access to healthcare, including immunization services, for remote island and riverine communities.