BY MOST accounts, immunisation is
the process whereby a person is made
immune or resistant to an infectious
disease, typically by the administration
of a vaccine. “Immunisation protects
people against diseases like measles,
mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, polio,
diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough
and chicken pox, among others,” health
experts said.
The experts explained that vaccines
stimulate the body’s immune system to
protect the person against an infection
or disease. World Health Organisation
(WHO) said immunisation is a proven
tool for controlling and eliminating lifethreatening
infectious diseases, adding
that it is estimated to avert between two
and three million deaths every year.
“It is one of the most cost-effective
health investments, with proven
strategies that make it accessible to even
the most hard-to-reach and vulnerable
populations. It has clearly defined
target groups; it can be delivered
effectively through outreach activities;
and vaccination does not require any
major lifestyle change,” the global health
organisation said.
However, www.mamalette.com,
a website treating parenting issues,
explained that whenever babies are born,
they inherit specific types of antibodies
(substances produced by the body to
fight disease) from their mothers. It said
that these antibodies are also nature’s
way of protecting the babies when
they are most vulnerable to contracting
diseases.
The online publication, nonetheless,
says that around six months of age,
these antibodies start to diminish and
almost completely disappear by the
time a baby is one-year-old. “In an ideal
situation, babies, at this stage, should
start producing their own antibodies:
the beginning of their immune system as they increasingly become exposed to
the diseases which the maternal antibodies
had previously protected them against.
“However, after access to clean water
and breastfeeding, immunisation is
the most highly effective intervention
for protecting babies from contracting
infectious diseases,” www.mamalette.com
said. Nevertheless, the online publication
said that vaccine preventable diseases
account for approximately 22 per cent of
child deaths in Nigeria, resulting in 200,000
deaths per year.
As a result, the federal government
recently launched the sixth edition of
the African Vaccination Week (AVW) to
reinforce its political will to attain universal
vaccination coverage in Nigeria.
Dr Ado Muhammad, the Executive
Director, National Primary Healthcare
Development Agency (NPHCDA), said
that AVW was also a good platform to
raise public awareness on the importance
of vaccination in efforts to reduce child mortality.
He said that the agency would also
offer integrated health care services to the
people in three local government areas in
Oyo State and IDPs camps in Borno.
Muhammad said that the services would
include vaccination for both children and
adults against vaccine preventable diseases,
medical consultations and treatment of
minor illnesses, among others.
He pledged the commitment of the
federal government and its development
partners to having a polio-free Nigeria
by 2017 and delivering potent vaccines
to Nigerians. The executive director
urged parents and caregivers to take their
children and wards to healthcare facilities
for routine immunisation against polio and
other diseases.
“The fact that immunisation is effective,
life-saving and free is a message that we
should never stop communicating to our
people. The onus is, therefore, on us as
caregivers to ensure that our families,
especially our children, are protected
from vaccine preventable diseases such
as tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria,
meningitis, pneumonia, measles and polio,
among others.
“These diseases constitute a huge burden
to our society and they are also a major
cause of deaths in children below the age of
five years. Polio immunisation campaigns
will continue, as we do not want any reinfection
until we are certified a polio free
country in 2017,” he said.
Also, Dr Rui Gama Vaz, Country
Representative of WHO in Nigeria, while
commending the federal government for
its feats in the fight against polio, however,
warned that routine immunisation data
indicated that some states still had a lot of
unimmunised children.
“This scenario results into low population
immunity, thereby increasing the risks for
disease outbreaks,’’ he said. He, therefore,
called for high-level political commitment
and sustained funding for immunisation
programmes at all levels of government
until polio was totally eradicated, while
infant mortality, caused by vaccine
preventable diseases, was significantly
reduced.
Besides, Vaz urged the Federal Ministry
of Health and its agencies to scale up
immunisation activities at Nigeria’s
international borders so as to ensure
that settlers in those areas had access to
vaccines.
However, Dr Kabiru Getso, Kano State
Commissioner for Health, said that the
state had recorded an appreciable decline
in the incidences of death from vaccine
preventable diseases. He said that the state
had also made a remarkable progress in all
aspects of immunisation services.
The commissioner said that there
had been considerable progress in the
areas of cold chain and logistics as well
as community mobilisation, while the
coverage of “Penta Vaccine’’ had been increased from three to 300 per cent.
“Despite the achievements, almost all
local government areas reported measles
cases and the data quality assurance
surveys have shown consistent gaps
across the levels of reporting. The quality
of outreach services has also indicated
that a lot needed to be done to close the
wide gap on unimmunised children,” he
said.
Besides, Getso called for greater
efforts at community linkage activities
and accountability of health workers
entrusted with service delivery,
documentation and reporting of data.
Similarly, Kaduna State Government has
reiterated its commitment to achieving
100-per-cent anti-polio immunisation
coverage in the state. Governor Nasir el-
Rufai who gave the assurance when he
inaugurated the European Union (EU)
Support to Immunisation Governance
project, said that government would
give priority to efforts to improve the
health care system and revamp the
education sector of the state. He stressed
that his administration was committed
to achieving 100-per-cent immunisation
coverage and 100-per-cent penetration
within the shortest possible time.
Nevertheless, the United Nations
Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)
said that almost two-thirds of
unimmunised children live in conflict
prone countries. A statement signed
by UNICEF Chief of Immunisation,
Mr Robin Nandy, ranked South Sudan
as having the highest percentage of
unimmunised children in Africa with a
total of 61 per cent.
It added that Somalia occupied
the second position with 58 per cent.
“Conflict creates an ideal environment
for disease outbreaks. Children miss out
in basic immunisation because of the
breakdown and sometimes deliberate
destruction of vital health services.
“Even when medical services are
available, insecurity in the area often
prevents them from reaching children,”
the statement said.
It noted that measles, diarrhoea,
respiratory infections and malnutrition
were major causes of childhood illness
and death, while in conflicts and
emergencies, their effects could worsen.
The statement said that less than one per
cent of children who contracted measles
in non-conflict settings died, adding that
overcrowding and malnutrition, like
the one experienced in refugee camps,
contributed to 30 per cent of deaths from
measles.
“Overcrowding and lack of basic
necessities like food, water and shelter
make children even more vulnerable
to diseases. Areas in conflict also see
the killing of health workers and the
destruction of medical facilities, supplies
and equipment; all of which have a
disastrous effect on children’s health,”
it said.
All the same, experts insist that if
tangible efforts are made to improve
global vaccination coverage, over one
million deaths will be averted every
year.


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