This story provides an illustration of:
- Building partnerships and champions
- Understanding decision-making
- Leveraging parliamentarians
- Advocating for policy and legislative change
- Engaging regional leaders as champions
- Advocacy as a catalyst for change
Building partnership and champions
The parliament of any country is a powerful institution made up of influential leaders. The Sabin Vaccine SIF programme has worked for several years to engage Members of Parliament (MPs) in Uganda in advocating for sustained financing for national immunisation programmes by harnessing the energy of interested and influential politicians in a parliamentary network for immunisation.
In the 1980’s and 90’s, Uganda was one of the early achievers in vaccine coverage as the immunisation programme was highly functioning. Over the last decade however, immunisation coverage noticeably decreased. Upon this realisation, a small group of interested legislators decided to act; as a result they came together to form an advocacy platform and pressure group specifically focused on addressing the declining trends in immunisation coverage.
Leveraging parliamentarians and the decision-making process
Together, Sabin and the group of parliamentarians worked to create the Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Immunisation (UPFI) in Feb 2012 where solutions could be developed to ensure sustained gains of the national immunisation programme. Members of the forum worked to gather support within parliament and leverage parliamentary mechanisms which include: budget appropriation, developing laws and overseeing implementation. The forum was able to form a critical mass within a National Assembly to advocate for immunisation issues and work to generate change through continued engagement of Government agencies like the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance the other bodies such as UNICEF, WHO, Uganda Red Cross, CDC and others; all brought on board to ensure an integrated approach of engagement.
Advocating for policy and legislative change
Importantly, this advocacy platform has made some commendable achievements which have engaged the Ministry of Health to put in place stronger measures to respond to the poor state of immunisation. For example, a motion was moved on the floor of parliament to call for more attention by government to improve the immunisation program in the country, entitled: “Motion to reverse the declining trend of immunisation in Uganda”. Uganda further carried out a background legislative study identifying the existing legislative documents that cover immunisation or have a direct impact on immunisation activities, and a private members bill to strengthen immunisation in Uganda has reached the floor of Parliament.
Engaging regional leaders as champions
UPFI has engaged not only local leaders, but regional leaders. The team gave a presentation to the East African Legislative Assembly Speaker in Arusha in November 2012 and field visits to various health centers by parliamentary teams have been conducted. The forum also organised a MP briefing to educate new MPs on the issues on immunisation and ensured they were equipped with information from the EPI manager, UNICEF, WHO, PATH, MCHIP, ULGA and USAID to mention but a few. The MPs left with the realisation that while new vaccines are expensive, their payoff is priceless, especially when the challenge to deliver vaccines to every last child is executed effectively.
It is important to note that this is not a parliamentary committee of parliament, but a voluntary advocacy platform where willing members participate. It is intended to be temporary to solve highlighted concerns, and the UPFI thus developed an activity logframe which, once completed over the next 2 – 3 years, would signal a successful exit opportunity for the immunisation forum. The forum activities have been funded by Sabin Vaccine Institute, specifically for advocacy and education, while some specific activities were funded by UNICEF Uganda.
Catalysing change through advocacy
As they approach the end of the planned period for the UPFI activities, the forum has been a catalyst for change through the sharing of information with both high level leaders and MPs and their constituencies. Although the current improvements in immunisation cannot all be attributed to the UPFI, it has been a powerful voice for change, and the pending immunisation law should ensure sustainability of these gains in subsequent parliaments, executives and implementing bodies.