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Nigeria strengthens immunisation programme to protect children against diarrhoea

By Chukwuma Muanya
23 August 2022   |   5:22 am
National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has partnered with Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children Emergency Fund ...

Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib

National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has partnered with Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and others to introduce rotavirus vaccine into Nigeria’s routine immunisation programme with a view to reducing deaths arising from childhood diarrhoea.

The therapy, which moves to check the ailment that accounts for 15 per cent of all deaths in children under the age of five in Nigeria, comes, at no cost to beneficiaries. Other diesases covered under routine immunisation include: Tuberculosis, polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, yellow fever, tetanus, meningococcal disease and pneumonia.

Gavi, in a statement, yesterday, said the launch was first bold step in a push to reach children nationwide with the treatment, which protects against rotavirus infections, the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in young children worldwide.

“Childhood diarrhoea is the third leading cause of childhood mortality in Nigeria, accounting for 15 per cent of all deaths in children under the age of five,” it noted.

Gavi said the vaccine will initially be available in 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), starting with zones with lower vaccination coverage, and will later be rolled out in the remaining 17 states to reach seven million children within the first 12 months. The rotavirus vaccine is to be administered orally to infants at six, 10 and 14 weeks of age.

Managing Director of Country Programmes for Gavi, Thabani Maphosa, said: “This introduction is a major milestone in the push to protect more Nigerian children against vaccine-preventable diseases. Rotavirus-related disease is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in young children worldwide and a key contributor to childhood mortality in Nigeria.

“We commend the continued commitment of the Government of Nigeria, and will work with all partners to support this vital programme, which will reach children with this life-saving vaccine.”

Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, told journalists: “In order to reach so many children quickly, partners have planned to roll out several service delivery strategies such as daily vaccination in select sites, as well as mobile sessions to reach hard-to-reach rural communities. Vaccination will also be integrated with other primary healthcare services and diarrhoea prevention strategies such as hand washing, exclusive breastfeeding and provision of quality water and sanitation facilities.

“Protecting young children through this vaccine also decreases rates of rotavirus infection in unimmunised and elderly populations. Vaccination will also help reduce the use of antibiotics, which are often ineffectively prescribed to treat rotavirus infections, thus helping stem the rise of antibiotic resistance.”

Shuaib, who is also a public health physician, said concerted efforts by NPHCDA and partners to strengthen health systems in recent years have allowed the country to gradually increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage, while at the same time, maintain routine immunisation as part of its Optimised SCALES 2.0 strategy.

The latest WHO/UNICEF estimates of national immunisation coverage (WUENIC) indicate that Nigeria is one of few countries that maintained gains in routine childhood immunisation in 2021 at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted essential health services around the world.