By Chioma Obinna
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has urged Nigerians to be on guard against the resurgence of polio in the country by ensuring that their children participate in the country’s routine immunisation. After over three decades, Nigeria precisely on August 25, 2020, declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation, WHO following the struggle to end poliovirus in 1988 championed by global bodies including WHO, UNICEF, and the Rotary Foundation.
Also, the United State Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, and The Gates Foundation spearheaded the campaign through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, GPEI.
Making the call during a 3day Media Dialogue in Yola, Adamawa State, UNICEF Communication for Development Specialist, Ms Elizabeth Onitolo identified vaccine-preventable diseases as one of the major causes of death among under children in Nigeria.
She stated: “Even though Nigeria has been certified Polio free, we have to be on guard because immunisation coverage is still very low.”
Disclosing that they were targeting routine immunisation for children under one-year-old, Onitolo explained that the idea was to combat the measles outbreak. “We found out that the two doses of coverage of measles are more effective in children. “The tendency of polio still coming back is very high. Once a child is down with Polio, paralysis may occur. We have to ensure that no child suffers from Polio. We are supporting mobilizers to encourage mothers to attend routine immunisation,” she added.
On his part, NPHCDA Coordinator for COVID-19 Vaccination in Adamawa State, Mr Abba Muhammad Isawa warned of a possible resurgence of polio should Nigeria fail to continue to give routine immunization to eligible children.
“Nigeria was among the countries that were still polio-endemic. We had Afganistan and Pakistan. But Nigeria was declared polio-free last year. As of now, we have not had a case of Wild Polio Virus in the country again.
“If we do not continue to give routine immunization, there is the tendency that polio may resurface. So we have to continue to give the routine vaccination as at when due.”
Speaking during a chat with journalists on the sideline of the media dialogue, he said: “When we established the National Emergency Routine Immunisation Centre (NERIC) a few years ago, we used the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey/National Immunization Coverage Survey 2016-17, which shows that Nigeria has 33 per cent national coverage.
“We were supposed to conduct another survey last year but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we could not do so. But we are planning to conduct another survey so that we can compare the figures and know where we are as a country.
“However, we have seen some progress with the National Demographic Health Survey, NDHS. It indicated that the Routine Immunisation coverage in the country has improved.”
On reasons for low immunisation coverage in the country, he said: “Most of the reasons why Nigeria has low coverage were due to the lack of awareness and the lack of the involvement of the people at the community level.
“When a caregiver takes a child for immunization, she does not know that she needs to bring the child again for another round. She assumes that when the child is being vaccinated during campaigns, the child is fully immunised. “
He said the gap in knowledge was due to a lack of the involvement of the community people and them not taking ownership of the immunization activities.
The event was organised UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau, CRIB, of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA.
Isawa noted that health workers and the government alone cannot sustain, hence the need to involve the community people and make it a community thing as well as drive the ownership for sustainability even as he urged parents and caregivers to take the eligible children to receive routine immunization against Polio, yellow fever, meningitis, Tuberculosis and BCG as at when due.
“It is supposed to be five times for a child to be fully immunized. They should ask their relations who have eligible children for vaccination whether they have been given the immunization five times and as much as possible try to retain the card because this is the evidence that the child has been immunized.
On how to ensure vaccine accountability, Isawa said the federal government through the NPHCDA has taken some steps to ensure integrity and accountability in vaccine administration.
“When declaring RI emergency back in 2017, we developed an accountability framework where all those involved in the RI activities in the country will be held accountable.
“So even to the facility level where we give the vaccine to the recorders and people that are going to immunize, for every dose of the vaccine is given, the person will be held accountable.
“We have people that go to the facility, the local government, and even to the state level to conduct an audit and they are going to compare the vaccine and the doses we give to who and the person that has been vaccinated.“At the end of every vaccination session, they return the empty vials and we do a physical count. That vials of vaccine that we give are actually what will be returned and we will check the records to see the people that have been immunized and we conduct a survey and go to the community and check the people and ensure that really they have been given the immunization as recorded in the card.”