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Estimation of Ethiopia’s immunization coverage – 20?years of discrepancies
Authors: Bob Pond, Abebe Bekele, Sandra Mounier-Jack, Habtamu Teklie, and Theodros Getachew
Source: BMC Health Services Research, Volume 21, Article 587, Supplement 1; DOI:
Topic(s): Immunization
Country: Africa
Published: SEP 2021
Abstract: Background: Coverage with the third dose of diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus-containing vaccine (DPT3) is a widely used measure of the performance of routine immunization systems. Since 2015, data reported by Ethiopia’s health facilities have suggested DPT3 coverage to be greater than 95%. Yet, Demographic and Health Surveys in 2016 and 2019 found DPT3 coverage to be 53 and 61% respectively for years during this period. This case study reviews the last 20 years of administrative (based on facility data), survey and United Nations (UN) estimates of Ethiopia’s nationwide immunization coverage to document long-standing discrepancies in these statistics. Methods: Published estimates were compiled of Ethiopia’s nationwide DPT3 coverage from 1999 to 2018. These estimates come from the Joint Reporting Form submitted annually to WHO and UNICEF, a series of 8 population-based surveys and the annual reports of the WHO/UNICEF Estimates of National Immunization Coverage (WUENIC). Possible reasons for variation in survey findings were explored through secondary analysis of data from the 2012 immunization coverage survey. In addition, selected health officials involved with management of the immunization program were interviewed to obtain their perspectives on the reliability of various methods for estimation of immunization coverage. Findings: Comparison of Ethiopia’s estimates for the same year from different sources shows major and persistent discrepancies between administrative, survey and WUENIC estimates. Moreover, the estimates from each of these sources have repeatedly shown erratic year-to-year fluctuations. Those who were interviewed expressed scepticism of Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) statistics. Officials of the national immunization programme have repeatedly shown a tendency to overlook all survey statistics when reporting on programme performance. Conclusions: The present case study raises important questions, not only about the estimation methods of national and UN agencies, but about the reliability and comparability of widely trusted coverage surveys. Ethiopia provides an important example of a country where no data source provides a truly robust “gold standard” for estimation of immunization coverage. It is essential to identify and address the reasons for these discrepancies and arrive at a consensus on how to improve the reliability and acceptability of each data source and how best to “triangulate” between them.