By Isatou Jawara
Vice President Fatoumatta Jallow-Tambajang Wednesday opened a two-day international conference on viruses and vaccines in tropical areas organised under the auspices of the University of The Gambia. High-level international dignitaries attended the conference from various countries.
In her speech, she said vaccines have proven key against major diseases caused by viruses. A landmark event was the global eradication of smallpox through vaccination campaigns coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1980.
She said The Gambia has been officially declared free from another major disabling viral disease, poliomyelitis, since 2004, again mainly through the implementation of an appropriate vaccination and surveillance scheme with technical support from WHO.
“The Hepatitis B virus responsible for liver cancer, the commonest cancer in several of our countries, is being addressed by universal vaccination of all infants in The Gambia, as part of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI).
EPI vaccine coverage in The Gambia has consistently been among the best in Africa over of the past 50 years, under the committed leadership and programme at the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the WHO country office and the MRC Laboratories Fajara Unit in the Gambia,” she added.
Madam Tambajang explained that since the diagnosis of the first case of HIV infection in The Gambia in 1986, a coordinated national response has ensured that national prevalence has remained under 2 percent with availability of appropriate anti-viral treatment, supported by the Global Fund.
She said the Ebola epidemic that hit some countries in West Africa in 2014 was thankfully brought under control by concerted efforts of national governments, WHO and the global community.
Dr Faqir Muhammad Anjum, the vice chancellor of the UTG, expressed his hope that the conference will be a platform to gather and disseminate the latest knowledge on viruses and vaccines. He added that academics, scientists, researchers and medical practitioners will be able to share and discuss new findings on viruses and vaccine and that the intellectual discourse will result in future collaborations between universities, research institutions and industry, both locally and internationally.
He pointed out that they need to focus on issues that are critical and need urgent intervention, citing HIV and Aids which have ravaged many societies in Africa as well as the recent Ebola outbreak in the Mano River states.
The vice chancellor added that initiatives for national or regional elimination or global eradication of any disease represent complex efforts that consume vast financial, health services and infrastructural resources and require decades of commitment. Such programmes, he said, demand sound scientific underpinnings and management structures that can adapt to changing epidemiological scenes.
He highlighted that The Gambia has made “giant strides” in the area of primary health care which has yielded positive results in the health delivery system. He added that the University of The Gambia will continue to collaborate with the development partners and relevant stakeholders like Isesco and Comsats to boost scientific research.