Odimegwu Onwumere writes that if not for the nonstop campaign by the United Nations to put the health of Nigerian children on the global focus especially children in the North-east ravaged by Boko Haram, much might not be known of measles and polio taking tolls on children
At a time when reports showed that many children were malnourished, susceptible to different diseases and have died in their numbers in the North-east ravaged by Boko Haram which resulted from spent healthcare services, the United Nations (UN) on January 13, 2017, took up a massive campaign to protect as many as 4.7 million children from measles in the area.
In September 2016, the National Immunisation Financing Task Team (NIFT) promotion commission had called on the federal government to guarantee that Nigeria’s dedication of $181 million immunisation funding requisite for 2017 and 2018 was rallied in order to diminish the catastrophic evidence of under-five demises in the country. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in the same month to 18 December 2016 drew the attention of authorities that children under five were affected by measles.
An estimated 1, 500 infected children were suspected in Borno State that led to about 77 per cent of them vaccinated. This was even apart from 177,000 infants below age five that experts said lost their lives annually then, due to pitiable running of pneumonia vaccines. According to experts report, “WHO estimates that over 800,000 children under age five die from pneumococcal diseases each year with those less than two years of age most affected, especially in developing countries.”
Given its readiness to combat measles, the WHO founded Early Warning, Alert and Response System (EWARS) last year. Children that numbered 83,000 who were aged six months to 15 years old camped as internally displaced people (IDPs), received vaccination from the Borno State authorities in partnership with the WHO. Dr. Wondimagegnehu Alemu, Country Representative of the UN World Health Organisation showed concern that the body’s interventionist approach to campaign against measles this year, could not be avoided owing to dangerous and transmittable diseases that the children faced.
Apart from measles, on August 12, 2016, Doune Porter, the UNICEF Chief of Communication said in Abuja that the WHO and UNICEF supported the Federal Ministry of Health as partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in the latter’s fight against polio in the approachable parts of Borno State. In October, the same year, the UNICEF commenced an urgent-situation vaccination in 18 states in northern Nigeria with 39,000 health workers set-out across the Lake Chad basin that included Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Central African Republic.
More than 41 million children were hoped to be immunised. The WHO hoped that the battle against polio could be won in 12 months. The UNICEF believed that 400,000 would be affected by malnutrition in the areas prone-to Boko Haram, hence the UN body geared up to screen under five children of malnutrition last year.
Porter said at the time, “We cannot deny the connection between conflict and the continued threat of polio. The two new cases mean children across the Lake Chad region are now at particular risk. With our partners, we will not stop until we reach every child with polio vaccination.”
A report by the WHO stated that “all wild polio cases worldwide originated from Nigeria”. And it was believed early 2000 that many Muslims in the North where polio was said to be predominant than the South, felt that polio vaccine was a mechanism to poison their children, especially cause HIV/AIDS. On August 11, 2016, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole gave hope that the government would as a matter of urgency to the outbreak, take on up to five million children for immunisation, in four states.
According to Adewole, “Our overriding priority right now is to rapidly boost immunity in the affected areas to ensure that no more children are affected by this terrible disease.
“Local health officials with the support of partners including WHO and UNICEF are conducting detailed risk analysis to clearly ascertain the extent of circulation of the virus, and to assess overall levels of population immunity in order to guide the response.
“As an immediate response, about one million children are to be immunised in four local government areas in Borno State. Children in adjoining states of Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe will also be immunised bringing the number to about five million in the four states.”
The initiative started due to two new cases of polio virus in the state in 2016, after the WHO certified Nigeria polio free on September 25 2015, as Nigeria did not report a case of wild poliovirus from 24 July 2014 to the year she was certified polio free. A statement by the President, Nigerian Academy of Science, NAS, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said, “After attaining non-polio endemic status in September 2015, commitment waned and complacency set in. This was particularly evident at the levels of the National Assembly, governors and local government area chairpersons.”
Prof. Tomori continued, “This complacency meant that polio eradication activities were no longer backed by adequate and timely counterpart funding at the state and local government area levels. This was despite a public and often vocal commitment to polio eradication from Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.
“As a result, gaps remained in the quality of immunisation and surveillance activities. These were especially prominent in the country’s security compromised areas.”
Media reports accounted that the Project Director, the Community Health and Research Initiative, CHR, Dr. Aminu Magashi Garba, “linked the fresh outbreak to non-release of the N12.8 billion approved for routine immunisation five months after President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the 2016 budget.
“Magashi-Garba expressed worry that the continued delay may put the lives of over 7.2 million Nigerian children in danger or even cause more outbreaks of polio and other vaccine-related childhood diseases.”
The WHO said that one in 200 polio infections would end in permanent paralysis. “Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Children younger than five years old are more likely to contract the virus than any other group.”
Specified that more than 134,000 deaths were recorded from measles in 2015, the WHO took up the campaign aimed at children aged from six months to 10 years old slated to last for two weeks this year. But the deaths in measles would have been more than, if not that the WHO waded in as at when due, and saved a predictable 20.3 million deaths between 2000-2015. This effort was adjudged one of the best in public health.
Today, children in the North-east, especially in states like Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where the international body felt it could access due to the act of terrorists, were in to gain from the WHO’s measles vaccination. Checks revealed that the WHO supported the primary healthcare development agencies by providing proficiency in areas including “logistics, data management, training, social mobilization, monitoring and evaluation, supportive supervision and waste management.”
How to save children in Nigeria from the vaccine-related diseases was a cause of concern to specialists. Quoting Dr. Garba, the media said, “For Nigeria to return on track of winning the war against polio and deliver the African continent from the clutches of wild polio, immunisation is the way to go.
“To save the lives of our children and save the country the scarce resources by reducing cost of healthcare as well as give the future leaders the opportunity to live their potential, government at all levels must ensure 100 per cent coverage of immunisation.
“If we as a nation cannot provide healthcare to our children, what message are we sending to the world?”
For Tomori, “Nigeria must focus on attaining polio free status over the next three years and concentrate less on prematurely celebrating victory.”