Simple but cost-effective measure like vaccination can go a long way in protecting and preserving the lives of millions of children, globally. WINIFRED OGBEBO reports
At the National Vaccine Summit held last week in Abuja, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim declared that despite the availability of simple cost effective measures such as vaccines, Nigeria continued to lose estimated one million Nigerian children each year due to unverified stories about vaccination.
The overall objective of the summit was to mobilize both the public and private sectors as advocates and also commit themselves to the immunization of women and children against vaccine-preventable diseases.
According to the executive director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Ado Mohammed, the summit was intended to articulate a national consensus statement and call to action for the achievement of universal vaccine coverage for all Nigerian children by the year 2015, as part of the nation’s overall efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4.
However, the Child Rights Act 2003 states that immunization is the right of every child in Nigeria.
The former Senate President, Anyim noted, “It is indeed inexcusable that despite the availability of simple cost-effective health measures such as vaccines, we continue to lose an estimated one million Nigerian children each year to diseases that could have been prevented by vaccination.”
The chairman, ERC, Prof Oyewole Tomori, captured it succinctly in these words, “Since 1971, we’ve been saying the same thing, the same story year in, year out; nothing seems to change. So we get frustrated but we say for the sake of our children and our generation we cannot lose hope. We just have to keep talking; someday, somebody will hear and take action.”
Nigeria has the 12th highest under-five mortality in the world. According to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), 2008, close to one million Nigerian children die before they reach age five. One in every 10 child deaths worldwide is in Nigeria, and many of the deaths are from vaccine-preventable diseases”
Yet, immunisation has been found to be one of the most cost-effective interventions in the world for preventing deaths and diseases. When a child is vaccinated, experts say, it will produce immunity to disease in their body 90 – 100 per cent of the time.
Recent projections from Decade of Vaccines Economics (DoVE) show that by achieving 90% coverage with vaccines for the five leading childhood diseases - including Hib, pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, measles and pertussis - Nigeria could save more than 600,000 lives over the next ten years and add $17 billion to its economy.
“Nigerian government leaders have made major improvements in routine immunizations over the past three years,” said Dr. Orin Levine, Executive Director of International Vaccine Access Center, IVAC. “But the full promise of immunization and its economic benefits won’t be fully realized until vaccines reach every Nigerian child.”
Minister of State for Health, Dr. Ali Pate said Nigeria was presently in a situation where 1 out of 7 children dies before the age of 5 years as the trend will make it difficult for Nigeria to achieve Vision 20:2020.
Anyim also attributed the frequent scarcity of vaccines in the country to the increasing childbirths in Nigeria, which are always higher than projections made for vaccines.
He said: “However, I am aware that with Nigeria’s expanding population and increase in births, it is inevitable that there would be gaps, both in terms of vaccine availability and the necessary logistics and materials that would guarantee every eligible Nigerian child access to vaccines as at when due.”
“As you deliberate today, to find common grounds and evolve strategies that would assure universal access to vaccines by all Nigerians Children, you must bear in mind the need to look inwards and find sustainable local solutions to our problems.”
“We must also critically look at long-term opportunities to building our local capacity to manufacture not just equipments and materials necessary for immunization but also for the production of vaccines.” He added.
But many parents are also not fully aware of the benefit of vaccination and as a result, they deny their children the important opportunity to protect them against the vaccine preventable diseases.
Pate attributes severe lack of understanding as the reason a parents, for example, would refuse few drops of polio vaccines that can protect their children from a disease that kills or permanently paralyzes them.
Speaking on what the country would benefit from an effective vaccine immunization programme, the Director, Alliances and Information, International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the John Hopkins University, Lois Privor-Dumm, said that the economic gain from not taking children to hospitals as a result of sicknesses arising from not taking vaccines amounted to N2.6 trillion while N49 billion is the medical cost that would be saved in the period.
She said: “Nigeria could save up to over 600,000 miles over ten year period which is quite substantial and when you translate that into medical costs saved, that is N49 billion over a ten year period. What is even more exciting is the potential for economic gains, the productivity gains, that is because parents are not having to take their children to hospitals and not losing time at work.”
In order to address the challenges militating against the vaccination programme, the minister said the country must embark on continuous awareness promotion to parents and community leaders to recognise and demand for vaccines to protect their children.
“To reverse this trend, it is essential that we all join hands: government at all levels, the private sector, NGOs, development partners, traditional and religious, etc to educate our people on the benefits of vaccination, dispel false rumours and beliefs, mobilize the necessary resources for vaccination and monitor the entire process of vaccination.”
The government, which allocated N6 billion for procurement of vaccines for year 2012, according to Pate, is fully committed to expansion of life-saving vaccines for all Nigerian children with the revision of National Immunization Policy in 2009 accommodating new vaccines.
Privor-Dumm said, “There is a lot of opportunities to strengthen the health system and I think it starts with the leaders at all levels within Nigeria, not just people at the federal level, the people going down to the local government areas. Everybody has accountability to make sure that when parents take their children to see health providers, they should be able to get vaccines to protect their children for the rest of their lives.”
On the safety of vaccines, she said: “Vaccines are relatively safe intervention particularly when compared to the benefits that is received from giving vaccines because you are preventing a lot of diseases.”
“Vaccines are given all over the world in every single population which helps to mitigate some of those risks and to ensure that children receive the best protection.” She added.
However, describing Nigeria’s immunization efforts so far, Tomori said, 20 years is too late. He said, “We shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back for what we could have achieved 20 years ago. If anything, we should redouble our efforts for the lost ground because we’ve lost a lot of ground. I was looking at some of the reports from the ministry, the health indicators are worse now than they were 10 years ago so we are not actually making progress. You saw Ghana’s report; they’ve not had any child dying of measles for a long time, no polio case for the last six years and we are saying we have 15 cases of polio and we are making progress. What progress is that? These are the issues that we need to be talking about. Sometimes we are not realistic about our problems in this country. We look at things in a lopsided manner; last year we were better than this time in terms of polio cases but the question is, should you be where you were last year?