This post is part of the #ProtectingKids story roundup. Read all the stories here.

By Yacine Djibo

Founder and President, Speak Up Africa

What are the most efficient and innovative approaches to put an end to preventable child deaths across Africa? The question I have been striving to address for close to a decade.

My interest in child health started in 2010, when I decided to move away from the private sector and join the fight for malaria elimination in Senegal.  With the National Malaria Control Program, I focused on leveraging local health infrastructure and national media to create engaging platforms to prevent and treat malaria. While we made great strides in the malaria fight, I felt the need to broaden my scope of action beyond malaria. A more holistic approach seemed to important to properly prevent, diagnose and treat the top child killers, including diarrhea, pneumonia, meningitis, and measles.

This is mainly what led me to found Speak Up Africa, a communications and advocacy organization that promotes sustainable development and child health through innovative multi-layered communications campaigns and mass prevention. I remain convinced that vaccination is the gateway to health. In the past six years, I have come to learn that effective communication and advocacy for child health demands a 360° approach. All our platforms aim to ensure that all individuals use the best prevention and treatment tools available for their children by combining our celebrity, media, marketing and political assets with the skill and experience of the best local marketers in Africa. We tap into sustainable cultural institutions - including entertainment, faith, corporate marketing power, government, and sports – to raise awareness and engage leaders in Africa in the fight for child health. By activating local communities and engaging individuals across the country in an entertaining and educational campaign we can raise immunization awareness and achieve our goal.  Focusing on all communication channels that are of direct relevance to people’s everyday lives. By stressing the importance of vaccination, and keeping it up to date over the course of a child’s life, we encourage caregivers and mothers to seek out health workers and demand more from local health centers.

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His Excellency, President Jakaya Kikwete has been an amazing advocate in our work, serving as Global Ambassador to our Africa United campaign. At the first-ever Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Africa (MCIA) this past February in Addis Ababa, he emphasized, “Under my leadership, Africa United will focus on promoting universal health access, beginning with a focus on Universal Immunization. Immunization is crucial to saving the lives of children across Africa – and the world.”

This type of strong commitment from influential leaders clearly stating that universal immunization is the most cost-effective way to save lives and improve health is of the utmost importance to effectively raise the profile of immunization and child health throughout the continent.

In Senegal, where I’m from and where Speak Up Africa is headquartered, vaccine coverage rates are hovering around an impressive 89% - but also emphasize the need to keep pushing. These successes are only possible with strong country ownership and political will.

World Immunization Week and African Vaccination Week are key moments to raise the profile of immunization across the continent. We have all the ingredients to make universal immunization a reality by closing the immunization gap, and I am proud to continue this work through Speak Up Africa, with the help of our partners and advocates around the world.