Remarks by U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission William D. Bent at the 55th Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) training

Remarks by U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission William D. Bent at the 55th Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) training

April 24, 2023; | Speke Resort Munyonyo, Kampala

Good morning!  I am honored to be with you at this 55th Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) international training in Kampala.   The timing of this training coincides with the African and World Vaccination Week—both celebrated the last w eek of April, starting today.  I understand that the goal this week is to strengthen immunization programs by increasing awareness of the importance vaccination and everyone’s right to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.  This year’s theme, “The Big Catch Up,” is meant to raise awareness of the urgent and critical need to find and vaccinate children who missed vaccines that help to protect them from illness, disability, and death.  It is in this context, with the world’s focus on this vital issue, that you start training this week.

The United States is committed to improving health outcomes in Africa.  As the world’s leading global health development partner and largest contributor of health assistance to Uganda, we are improving the well-being of Ugandans of all genders, ages, and backgrounds.  With an average annual health investment of more than $500 million in Uganda, the United States supports disease control programs for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria and strengthens Uganda’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 and the recent Sudan Ebola Virus.  We also support immunization programs, as one of the most cost-effective ways of improving child health.  While I am most familiar with the statistics in this country, the United States significantly contributes to the health and well-being of Africans across the continent and vulnerable populations across the globe.

As you know, with today’s interconnected world, fighting diseases has become even more complex.  Diseases, including vaccine-preventable ones such as measles, do not respect national borders.  The COVID-19 pandemic reminded the world of the power of vaccines in controlling epidemics.  We all watched as the world confronted this pandemic, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief as vaccines started to come online in record time.  And I am proud that the United States made over 680 million safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines does available to 117 countries, 44 of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.  As new vaccines become available, they will be critical to control known diseases, such as cholera and malaria, as well as emerging diseases where the rapid development of new vaccines will continue to save lives.

CDC STOP - Group shotIn Uganda, the U.S. government is providing technical and financial assistance to the Ministry of Health to strengthen capacity for routine immunization, to improve quality and use of immunization data, to increase vaccine-preventable disease surveillance, to introduce new vaccines, and to respond to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.  For instance, U.S. CDC in Uganda worked closely with Infectious Diseases Institute, a local partner, to support the Ministry of Health’s efforts to get COVID-19 vaccines to people at high risk of serious illness.  When people at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19 could not get to vaccination sites, health officials brought health workers to administer vaccines where they were located.  This effort reached 75,000 people by March 2022.

Since STOP was launched in 1999, the U.S. CDC’s Global Immunization Division has coordinated and hosted STOP trainings, both at CDC headquarters in Atlanta and from June 2017, here in Uganda.  The STOP program had a founding focus on polio, though the past 24 years has seen it expand to support efforts to control and eliminate other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, and strengthen routine immunization and disease surveillance systems, both of which are crucial for health security globally.  The first STOP team consisted of only 25 participants—all of whom were CDC staff members.  Today, the STOP program has participants from all over the world who are experts in their fields and has deployed over 3,500 participants on over 5,400 assignments in 81 countries.

I know that several Ugandan National Immunization Program technical officers are attending this year’s training.  It is also great to have so many participants from the continent, many of whom work for the Ministry of Health in your respective countries. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to grapple with the challenges to achieving control, elimination, and eradication of vaccine preventable diseases, to learn from each other, and to leave with knowledge, support, and solutions to improve health outcomes in your countries.

Fighting the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases is a public health priority that requires a collaborative approach across countries―and with collective efforts from all of us―whether you are a medical professional, an epidemiologist, data analyst, lab expert, communication specialist or otherwise.  I am happy to note that this training encompasses a diverse array of participants, both in terms of background and country of origin.  We all have a role to play.  Through STOP and other country-specific public health workforce development programs we have built and continue to build a valuable pool of human resources to support countries to optimize immunization and disease surveillance systems to achieve disease control, elimination, and eradication goals.

Thank you to the Government of Uganda for hosting the training again this year.  Thanks also to the U.S. CDC, WHO, UNICEF, and AFENET for keeping immunization at the top of health agendas here in Uganda, and in countries across the continent.  And, of course, thank you to all of you who dedicate your lives to public health.  I trust the next few weeks of training will be busy and instructive.  I wish you a productive training and safe onward journey to your country of assignment.  Thank you.