Peter Hawkins, the Country Representative, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nigeria, says the improvement recorded in the number of children immunized against diseases in the country is fantastic.
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He gave the commendation on Sunday during the News Agency of Nigeria Forum in Abuja.
Newsmen report that the National Immunization Coverage Survey (NICS) 2021 revealed that 57 per cent of Nigerian children received all three doses of pentavalent vaccines.
Hawkins said that in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria was able to record an improvement in immunization indices even when some other countries witnessed a drop.
He added that “the situation in Nigeria, it’s not so much where we are today, it’s where we have come from.
“In 2016, it was 34 per cent Penta three, so three, Penta vaccines for a child.
“Now it is at 57 per cent, so that improvement is fantastic. Over the past three to four years, it increased from 50 per cent to 57 per cent.
“So, that increase is fantastic, in actual fact, given that in the middle, we had COVID and in most countries, immunization dropped.
“In Nigeria, we put a lot of efforts, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) puts a lot of effort in maintaining importation of vaccines for routine immunization, maintaining the structures so that they continue to provide vaccinations to children and 50 to 57 per cent is a fantastic achievement.”
Hawkins, however, said that though there was measurable improvement, 57 per cent is still insufficient for a country like Nigeria, and that the indicators around child mortality demonstrates that.
According to him, the problem is in the fact that some states are performing at a high level, while some only record little improvement.
He added that “Lagos State is at 82 per cent, if I remember correctly, and they have sustained it at that level, whereas a state like Sokoto has gone from seven per cent to 11 per cent.
“Eleven per cent is the problem there. So it’s looking at the states where immunization is low, seeing what the fundamental problems of why and then unbottling those bottlenecks to ensure that they go up to the 57 per cent, 60 per cent and ultimately get to 80 per cent.”
He also said that there are communities with zero dose children, adding that there are some communities even in Lagos State where immunization has not reached.
He explained that the NPHCDA, together with Global Alliance for Vaccine Immunization (GAVI) and UNICEF have been working hard to ensure that those communities are not left behind.
He also said that continuous financing for vaccines should be enabled to ensure that the gap is closed.
For malaria vaccine for children, he said it would herald a significant change in child mortality.
He added that though the vaccine is still expensive, it will be included in routine immunization to prevent children from dying from malaria once they become available.
“We are also coming up with malaria, that will be a significant change in the way that the child mortality is looked at.
“The vaccine is still expensive. That new vaccine is starting to be developed and once that becomes available for children, it will change the dynamic and it’s how you include that in the routine immunization to prevent children from dying from malaria.”
NAN reports that the 2021 World Malaria Report (WMR 2021) indicates that Nigeria contributes 27 per cent of the global malaria cases and 32 per cent of global malaria deaths.
In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced its recommendation of widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission .
The recommendation was based on results from a pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that reached more than 900,000 children since 2019.
Though the malaria vaccine is still under review, the global target of the World Health Organization is to reduce the incidence of the disease by at least 30 per cent by 2030.