The recurring outbreaks of childhood diseases have continued to threaten the lives of many Nigerian children as they remain vulnerable to these vaccine preventable diseases.
The United Nations Children‘s Fund (UNICEF) says that every year, vaccines save an estimated two to three million lives.
However, in Nigeria, these diseases continue to claim the lives of many children and push families into poverty due to out of pocket expenditure.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) epidemiological report, in January 2022, there were 908 suspected cases of measles in the country.
The report shows that 29 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) recorded cases of measles in January, with suspected cases in 243 local government areas, adding that Borno (166), Jigawa (94), Katsina (88), Kebbi (70), Kwara (43) and Anambra (40) accounted for 55.2 per cent of the 908 suspected cases reported in January.
„Of the 908 suspected cases reported, 254 (28.0%) were confirmed (88 lab confirmed & 166 clinically compatible), 148 (16.3%) were discarded and 506 (55.7%) are pending classification.
„The age group 9 – 59 months accounted for 180 (70.9%) of all confirmed cases. Up to 149 (58.7%) of the confirmed cases have not received a dose of measles vaccine (“zero dose”),“ the report noted.
The National Immunisation Coverage Survey (MICS/NICS 2016/17) showes that only 23 per cent of children aged 12-23 months received all routine immunisations in Nigeria
The survey showed that 31per cent of children who received the first dose of pentavalent vaccine did not get all three doses and that 40 per cent of children did not receive any vaccines from the health system.
The poor state of immunisation and it‘s effects on Nigerian children led to the declaration of state of emergency on routine immunisation by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) in 2017.
However, the National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHS) 2019, indicates an improvement, resulting in 67 per cent routine immunisation coverage.
Identifying lack of awareness as a major barrier to immunisation uptake in the country, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, recently organised a media dialogue on routine immunisation and COVID-19 vaccination in Yola, Adamawa State.
Speaking during the event, the World Health Organisation (WHO) state coordinator, Iyobosa Igbinovia, said immunisation is the best way to secure the future of children, adding that the vaccines are safe, effective, free and available at all government health centers.
He, however, stressed the need for sustained mobilisation of heads of households to allow their spouses to take their children to health facilities for routine immunisation.
He also called for continuous sensitisation of community members to adopt key household practices such as hand and respiratory hygiene, sanitation and adherence to COVID-19 precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing, wearing of face masks in public and avoiding large gatherings.
During the 2021 vaccination week, UNICEF, WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance said that even though immunisation services have started to recover from disruptions caused by COVID-19, millions of children remain vulnerable to deadly diseases.
They highlighted the urgent need for a renewed global commitment to improve vaccination access and uptake.
World immunisation Week is celebrated in the last week of April every year. It aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.
Re-emphasising the importance of childhood vaccination, director general of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says “If we are to avoid multiple outbreaks of life-threatening diseases like measles, yellow fever and diphtheria, we must ensure routine vaccination services are protected in every country in the world.”
“Even before the pandemic, there were worrying signs that we were beginning to lose ground in the fight against preventable child illness, with 20 million children already missing out on critical vaccinations,” said UNICEF executive director, Henrietta Fore.
“The pandemic has made a bad situation worse, causing millions more children to go unimmunised. Now that vaccines are at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we must sustain this energy to help every child catch up on their measles, polio and other vaccines. We have no time to waste. Lost ground means lost lives,” she added.
“Millions of children across the world are likely to miss out on basic vaccines as the current pandemic threatens to unravel two decades of progress in routine immunisation”, said CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Dr. Seth Berkley.
“To support the recovery from COVID-19 and to fight future pandemics, we will need to ensure routine immunisation is prioritised as we also focus on reaching children who do not receive any routine vaccines, or zero-dose children. To do this, we need to work together – across development agencies, governments and civil society – to ensure that no child is left behind”, he added.
However, executive director general of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, says Nigeria has made progress on vaccine supply chain including deploying about 2,963 Solar Direct Drives (SDD) to all states. “We have begun to see tangible results, surpassing historical trends as our coverage increased from 33 per cent in 2016 to over 70 per cent in 2019.
“Recall that in July 2017, we declared a state of public health concern on routine immunisation and established the National Emergency Routine Immunisation Coordination Centre (NERICC). Leveraging on our experience in polio eradication, we are having this significant progress of more than doubling routine immunisation coverage within three years,” he said.