By Hassan Zaggi
Children in the three northwest states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara stand the high risk of mass deaths in the days ahead due to low vaccination intake.
Mrs Chika Offor, the Chief Oversight Officer, Vaccine Network for Disease Control, in an interview with our Correspondent in Abuja, warned that if urgent measures are not taken by governments at all levels, a repeat of the type of epidemic that happened in Sudan may manifest itself in Nigeria.
Speaking on the devastating effect of poor vaccination, she said: “The first negative consequence is the mass consequence.
“If more children are vaccinated, there is mass protection. Vaccines are preventive. They save lives and save money in the long run.
“It is cheaper to prevent than to treat any disease. Right now in Sudan there is an epidemic of Yellow Fever a vaccine preventable disease. They will spend a lot to curb the scourge. Prevention is better than cure.”
The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), indicated that 95 per cent of children in Sokoto, 94 per cent in Kebbi and 93 per cent and Zamfara are not vaccinated.
Where as only 24 per cent of children in Anambra, 37 per cent in Imo and 38 per cent in Lagos states have not taken any vaccination.
Speaking during a recent media dialogue on Data Driven Reporting organised by the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) in Port Harcourt, a Nutrition Specialist with UNICEF, Dr. Bamidele Omotola, quoting from the 2018 NDHS, disclosed that children that have taken vaccination in the three states included, “Sokoto, 5 per cent; Kebbi, 6 per cent and Zamfara, 7 per cent.
The highest is Anambra with 76 per cent, followed by Imo, 63 per cent and Lagos 62 per cent
“In all 31 per cent of Nigeria children received immunization.”
While advancing reasons why there is still high number of children that have not taken vaccination in the three states, Mrs Chika Offor, said: “You have vaccine hesitancy and low coverage because they still do not believe in the value of vaccines.
“Parents are sometimes afraid of the vaccines because of certain effects the vaccines show in children. The child may develop high temperature and if the parents are not properly educated on these effects and what to do, they will not take the child to the health centre for the next dose.”
On what to do to improve the vaccination intake in the three states, she said: “I believe that deliberate inclusion of women in the community as mobilizers is a strategy that will work any day.
“We have retired nurses and other health workers that can become mobilizers. It is time also to include immunization to other community intervention.
“We cannot stop sensitizing. Make immunization a norm in communities and work with women. Empower them and educate them. We tried this strategy in Niger state and it worked.”
She also advocated for strategic community engagement/ information on the value of vaccines.
“Women are the key. Work with them. Involve the community gateways. Include in all community celebration for example, naming ceremonies. Make it a norm.
“Use reminders to remind parents including using hand bands, women reminding women through the women of influence approach. Use simple technology SMS, etc. Lastly never give up. Continued sensitization. All hands must be on deck. From government to NGOs to communities to facilities,” she stressed.