One of the best ways to reduce infant mortality in Nigeria is to engage in regular immunisation of all children. It will also prevent children’s diseases that may affect their growth and development, writes NAOMI SHARANG

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 life-threatening 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,, 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,” 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 re-infection 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. (NAN)

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