Vaccinating in Nigeria will drive the country’s progress

Nigeria has a population of nearly 192 million people, making it easily the most populous nation on the African continent. Plus, in 2017, the country expects to add another 7.3 million newborns to its population. The country’s under-five mortality rate has been falling steadily since the early 1990s and has halved since the 1980s. Deaths among newborns in Nigeria are also well down on their peak in 1995.

Between 2001 and 2016, Nigeria received US $698 million in Gavi funding, which has supported supplementary activities for measles immunization, meningitis A, pentavalent, and pneumococcal vaccines, plus campaigns against yellow fever. Although Nigerian families continue to lose children to vaccine-preventable diseases, community health workers traverse the country, including to remote villages only accessible by boat, to conduct routine immunizations and health checks.

Nigeria is a large country with unevenly-distributed health infrastructure and a historical anti-vaccination movement. About 10 years ago, polio made a comeback in northern Nigeria when political and religious leaders instructed parents not to immunize their children, claiming that the vaccines might be tainted so as to sterilize the population.

The country’s federal system of government, in which each state organizes and delivers health care autonomously, means manifest differences among and within the country’s 36 states in immunization coverage, which ranges from 10 percent to 80 percent. Nigeria is working to overcome these disparities with support from Gavi, the Vaccines Alliance. The federal government recognizes the need to increase immunization coverage, and some of the state governors are particularly committed to their own immunization programs.

A new report from RESULTS UK, Owning it: Turning immunisation commitments into action, sets out the importance of political leadership, sustainable financing, and improved programme and policy implementation as three essential elements which need to be reinforced if we are to ensure all children receive all recommended vaccines.

Imo State in south-eastern Nigeria is about 500 km south of the country’s capital, Abuja. At a local health facility, Mrs. Kasarachi Ezeadigo of Umuori-Uratta in Obibi Autonomous Community, who had come to have her youngest child immunized, spoke with a Gavi partner, the Coalition on Vaccines Vitamins and Immunization for All Nigerians [COVIAN]/Afrihealth Optonet Association (AFRIHOA).

Mrs. Ezeadigo said that all her children had had their complete schedule of immunizations at the correct times. She was having her new baby vaccinated to protect against disease, as well as “to preserve the baby from death and open opportunity for a future so much desired by every positive-minded parent.”

“Immunization is preventive and cost less when compared to the consequences in moving from one hospital to another. It saves children from killer diseases and also, permanent disability.”

Mrs. Ezeadigo reported that she had been given the relevant information about preventable diseases, the immunization process, and what to expect for the baby by health workers she saw at the Primary Health Centre and when they visited her at home—something she would like to see immunization officers do more frequently. But, fortunately, “I have never had long waiting time or go on long journeys to immunize my baby as a Primary Health Centre is located closer to my residence.”

Finally, Mrs. Ezeadigo expressed a wish for vaccines to be more widely available in Nigeria. She said, “I want vaccines to be brought closer to the grassroots/hinter lands, and some that are paid for reduced for mothers who may not afford them. I am interested in seeing vaccines like rotavirus made affordable including the one for typhoid that is not being given yet.”

She told the COVIAN/AFRIHOA interviewer that she immunized her children “to protect them, and for the continuity of our generation.” Nigeria will need healthy citizens to help it on its development pathway, and these children, who have been given such a strong start in life, are sure to be driving the country’s future progress.

Interview by Dr Uzodinma Adirieje, National Coordinator, Coalition on Vaccines, Vitamins and Immunization for All Nigerians [COVIAN]/Afrihealth Optonet Association (AFRIHOA). Additional reporting by Leila Stennett, member of the Gavi CSO Steering Committee.

World Immunization Week is April 24-30, 2017.