An Important Milestone in Health- Related Efforts and Progress (Part I) – Eritrea Ministry Of Information – Eritrea Embassy Geneva, Switzerland

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Editor’s note: this is the first article in a two-part series related to Eritrea’s national measles and rubella vaccination campaign. The following article unpacks the nation’s commitment to youth and highlights how vaccination programs contribute to the country’s child mortality reductions.

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This week, the Ministry of Health (MoH) is conducting a national measles and rubella vaccination campaign across the country. The initiative, which will also include the distribution of Vitamin A supplements and is taking place from April 24 to 28, is expected to reach a total of more than 520,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Overall, more than 4,000 different health personnel from the MoH, closely backed by support staff from local administrations and logistical assistance from longstanding developmental partners (such as UNICEF), are delivering services at 302 permanent health centers, 900 temporary sites, and 65 mobile units nationwide.

The ongoing vaccination campaign, which is just the latest round in a long series organized over the years, represents another important milestone in Eritrea’s health-related efforts and progress. It also provides a timely opportunity to reflect upon several broader related points.

Commitment to people, especially children

One of the world’s youngest countries, Eritrea possesses a rich history, blend of beautiful cultures, and vibrant diversity. Blessed with a warm, hospitable climate, it has a long, pristine shoreline on the Red Sea, a constellation of islands, an abundance of marine and natural resources, wonderful wildlife and biodiversity, and significant agricultural potential. The country is also positioned along one of the world’s most important international maritime shipping routes, and boasts endless possibilities for a thriving tourism sector. Even with all of these advantages, Eritrea’s greatest asset and most important resource, by far, is its valiant people – especially its youth.

As a powerful reflection of this, across the three decades since winning its independence, Eritrea has maintained a strong, unwavering commitment to the health and well-being, and development of its youth. For example, the first international convention ratified by the Eritrean government after the nation won its independence was the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, while it also acceded to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in December 1999, not long after the Charter entered into force.

As well, the Eritrean National Charter, adopted in Nakfa in February 1994 and which provides the guiding vision for the country, articulates clearly the prioritization of children. Specifically, it strongly declares that, “Eritrea should strive to minimize infant mortality and to care for its children. The children of martyrs, in the tens of thousands, who were, deprived of the love of their parents, as well as other orphans, must be provided with proper upbringing and care. In Eritrea, the rights of children to education, health, love, safety, play, and to human dignity must be respected.”

The national vaccination campaign, which seeks to promote the health of all the nation’s children’s and ensure their well-being, is thus only a continuation of the country’s longstanding and strong commitment to its people and prioritization of its youth.

Vaccination is a key part of Eritrea’s substantial reductions in child mortality

There is no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Across the world, as a result of a variety of different factors and various developments, today that profound tragedy is far less common than it once was. During the last two centuries – and over the last several decades in particular – there have been tremendous strides made in reducing child deaths worldwide. Simply, today more children than ever before at any point in global history are surviving. This global progress is, by any objective measure or standard, truly remarkable. It has been described as, “one of the most significant achievements in human history”, as well as among, “the most extraordinary victories that humanity has known”.

Yet, huge disparities remain and improving child survival is still a matter of urgent global concern, especially in wide swathes of the Global South, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia. Sadly, children in these regions continue to face the highest risk of death and to bear the brunt of the global child mortality burden.

However, one positive story from the Global South is that of Eritrea. Despite limited resources, an extremely difficult regional geopolitical context, and an array of daunting challenges, the young, developing country has achieved remarkable progress on reducing child deaths over a relatively short period of time.

Specifically, the country has dramatically improved from 146 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1991 to 38 in 2021. Placing that into better context, it has moved from having one of the worst under-five mortality rates anywhere on the planet, to now being among the leaders on the continent and within the broader developing world. Notably, Eritrea’s average annual rate of reduction across the period is around 4.5 percent – one of the fastest in the world.

Eritrea’s substantial progress on reducing child mortality has been driven by a mix of factors that cut across several sectors. In addition to the high-level political will and commitment described in the previous section, among other things, the country has made steady advancements in women’s education and empowerment, significantly expanded health-related and general infrastructure, increased the number of doctors, nurses, and other health personnel, greatly improved access and service delivery, and carried out an array of high-impact, cost-effective lifesaving interventions.

Among the most prominent within the latter has been routine childhood vaccination, of which the latest national measles and rubella vaccination campaign is an excellent example. At independence, there were only six vaccines available for children and the nation’s coverage rate stood at less than 10 percent.

Across subsequent years, however, the routine vaccination program has steadily grown; today, Eritrea administers 14 vaccines with national coverage rates being nearly universal in the high 90s – which is significantly higher than both the continental and global average. Notably, during an extended working visit to Eritrea in late 2021, Mohammed Malick Fall, UNICEF’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, explained that he was, “struck by the level of immunization [of children in Eritrea],” before going on to note that there, “are many advanced countries that have a hard time reaching [those coverage levels].”

Ultimately, these interventions have helped to prevent serious illness, disability, and death among youth caused by a range of dangerous, debilitating diseases.

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