Onuminya Innocent in Sokoto
The United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has declared that 186,452 children in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi States did not receive a single dose of any vaccine in the Routine National Immunisation Schedule as at December 2022, referring to them as zero-dose children.
The UNICEF also said that lack of immunisation is responsible for the outbreak of diphtheria that the North-west has the highest record of its outbreak in Nigeria.
It further disclosed that Nigeria makes up 2.2 million zero doses of the 48 million children around the globe who did not receive a single regular dose.
A Health Specialist of UNICEF’S Sokoto Field Office, Dr. Danjuma Nehemiah, made these disclosures in Sokoto at a two-day Media Dialogue on Routine Immunisation and the Zero-Dose Campaign.
The dialogue was organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Primary Healthcare Development Agencies of Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States.
Nehemiah said that zero-dose referred to children who did not receive a single dose of antigens they should have taken at their age to give them protection from vaccine-preventable diseases.
The health specialist, therefore, said that immunisation is a key priority for the next five years.
He stated that “in spite of decades of progress to increase access to immunisation in lower-income countries, at least 12.4 million children still go without basic routine vaccines every year.
“UNICEF is now focusing on reaching these zero-dose children because zero-dose children account for nearly half of all vaccine-preventable deaths.”
He, however, said that the goal is to reduce the number of zero-dose children by 25 per cent by 2025, and by 50 per cent by 2030, which would also mark the closing of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Giving a breakdown of the figures, Nehemiah said that Sokoto accounted for 122,015 zero dose children in 13 local government areas; Zamfara, with 47,085 in six areas and 17,352 zero dose children in three local government areas.
He said: “Some of the indicators show that with the way we are going, it will take so many years for us to achieve our target.
“If after every five years you are achieving three per cent increase only, then it will take so many years to reach the 85 per cent target expected for routine immunisation coverage.”
Nehemiah said that Kebbi State has achieved more than three-fold improvement over Sokoto and Zamfara states due to intervention that was provided some years back by the European Union, where a lot of outreaches were done in hard-to-reach communities.
Citing reasons some gave for not vaccinating their children, he listed lack of knowledge or information, lack of time or other family issues and mistrust or fear of side reactions.
Others are religious beliefs, misinformation and rumours, vaccination fatigue (too many rounds), inability to understand the benefits of vaccination, absence of vaccine card and service delivery issues such as distance.
He added that to address the non-compliance, continuous advocacy and engagements at all levels are important, as well as continuous engagement of community structures to promote the benefits of immunisation.
He said that reframing messages to communicate the benefits of immunisation to different target audiences were also essential.
He stressed the need to reach communities with zero dose children, saying “these unprotected communities are not only potential epicenters of disease outbreaks, but they are also often deprived of other basic services and suffer from entrenched inequities.
“This means that collaboration across government Ministries, Departments and Agencies and civil society could bring benefits far beyond immunisation alone.
“By working together, we have a chance to leverage all our strengths to reach these communities with everything they need for a healthy, successful life, from nutrition and education to clean water to immunisation.”
According to the UNICEF Chief of Field Office for Sokoto, Dr. Maryam Darwesh Sa’id, immunisation is the most cost-effective, high-impact intervention for dealing with vaccine-preventable diseases, especially in children under five years.
Sa’id, who was represented by the Health Manager, UNICEF Sokoto Field Office, Dr. Shamina Sharmin, said that Nigeria had made progress in immunisation with national Routine Immunisation (RI) coverage of children receiving all three doses of the pentavalent vaccine at 57 per cent, citing the National Immunisation Coverage Survey (NICS) 2021.
She, however, said that the completeness of RI coverage stood at 36 per cent while for North-west Nigeria, the figure is only 25 per cent.
“Furthermore, recent data from UNICEF’s flagship report, the State of the World Children’s Report 2023, lists Nigeria as one of the countries with highest zero-dose children.
“According to the report, out of the 67 million children who missed routine vaccination between 2019 and 2022, 48 million did not receive a single regular vaccine.
As of the end of 2021, India and Nigeria had the most significant numbers of zero-dose children.”
On his part, the Director Public Health, Sokoto State Ministry of Health, Dr. Abdulrahaman Ahmad, the three North-western states have now become Areas of Intractable Transmission (AIT).
Ahmad said that these states are battling high levels of zero-dose immunisation and high levels of vaccine preventable diseases.
He decried the high rate of rejection of immunisation in the states, blaming it on ignorance.
Ahmad, however, said that the three states need continuous public enlightenment on the importance of taking the lifesaving interventions to ensure that children are guarded against vaccine preventable diseases.