Nigeria Government tasks parents on importance of immunization

Edward Samuel, Abuja

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The Nigerian government has reiterated the vital importance of parents taking responsibility for immunizing their children to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases.

The Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, (NPHCDA) Dr. Faisal Shuaib highlighted the critical need to invest in primary healthcare, which forms the foundation of a robust healthcare system, ultimately contributing to social-economic development.

“We are beginning to see the situation where if parents, guardians don’t take their kids for routine immunization, then it exposes kids to vaccine preventable diseases such as what we’re seeing with diphtheria outbreak in Kano states, in Katsina state, in Bauchi states, in Yobe states and environments. This is because parents are not taking their kids for routine immunization. We cannot continue to campaign our way out of these types of situations,” he said.

“It is important that parents actually take up their responsibilities and make sure that these vaccines that are provided free of charge to all members of the communities are accessed by parents. We’re working with the leadership of the states to make sure that we provide the vaccines and the medications that are necessary to contain these outbreaks.”

Dr. Shuaib assured that NPHCDA is actively engaged in providing support, advocacy, and coordination for primary healthcare programs, stressing the importance of resources allocated for prevention, promotion, and rehabilitation for children affected by disabilities.

In his address the Chairman of the Expert Review Committee (ERC) on Polio and Routine Immunization, Prof. Akin Osibogun emphasized on the need to maintain consistent pressure like a spring to prevent any resurgence.

Reflecting on the 39th ERC meeting, Prof. Osibogun explained that some recommendations made across nine thematic areas, aimed at interrupting transmission of circulating variants and maintaining Nigeria’s Wild Poliovirus (WPV) free status.

“The main challenges that hinder the achievements of some of the recommendations, of course included the absence of funding to facilitate the conduct of outbreak response within seven days of receipt of lab results because this is a strategy that we all identified can help us in our struggle,” he said.

Prof. Akin added that, “We are hoping that as we rise from this current meeting, we will not need to be developing plans to curtail the circulating virulence. We will be able to deal with it decisively once and for all.”

According to him, of these recommendations, some had been achieved, some partially, and only three remained unfulfilled, signaling the need for more concerted efforts from all stakeholders.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative to Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Molumbo who spoke through zoom said he is confident that the session by the Expert Review Committee(ERC) meeting on Polio and Routine Immunization would make far reaching recommendations to address this persisting challenge.

“The PHC revitalization agenda is the gateway and an accelerator for essential health services within the context of providing the required resources to kick-start a comprehensive effort for full polio transition. I note the significant progress from the last ERC, and I am indeed in high anticipation for the next set of evidenced based recommendations from this meeting,” he said.

Dr. Kazadi added that with a successful political transition, Nigeria has continued to strive towards a journey to zero for cVPV2 since the last ERC.

“More than 13 rounds of SIAs have been conducted with commensurate increase in quality particularly in accessible areas.

“The country continues to deploy innovative strategies in insecure areas through stronger community engagement and collaboration with partners. Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and Kebbi have been identified as axis of intractable transmission, thus requiring additional resources and cooperation of stakeholders for more impactful reach with surveillance and vaccines,” he added.

The UNICEF Country Representative Cristian Munduate who was represented by the Chief of Health, Edwardo Celades, acknowledged the significant strides made with a 60% reduction in polio cases compared to 2022, he emphases that “we are doing the right things” but also cautioning that every positive polio case represented a failure, urging the nation to reach zero cases as soon as possible.

“UNICEF is proud to have joined the concerted efforts by providing life saving vaccines, generating demand for vaccines, we’re reaching communities and partnering with traditional and religious leaders and key stakeholders to create a positive environment for vaccination,” he said.

Celades said, “We have contributed to ensuring that leaders and teams were available to resolve vaccine hesitancy and we have engaged almost 20,000 community members to encourage millions of Nigerian caregivers to take their children to the health facilities for competition of the immunization.”

He said UNICEF will continue to support the country’s integrated approach of delivering life saving vaccines to children.

Celades praised the integration efforts in primary healthcare, with over 800,000 additional children reached through immunization, and congratulated the progress.

On diphtheria, the Chief of Health, UNICEF said in addressing the daunting challenge of diphtheria outbreak, currently the third largest in the world, he stressed the need for swift action, likening the diphtheria response to the successful polio eradication efforts in Nigeria.