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Immunisation: US govt. commits to reaching unvaccinated children in Nigeria

By Abujah Racheal

Abuja, Feb. 7, 2024

In a significant development aimed at improving healthcare access for children in Nigeria, the U.S. government has announced its unwavering commitment to reaching zero-dose children across the country.

Dr Patricia Tanifum, Global Immunisation Division Programme Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC), gave the assurance during a roundtable on Wednesday in Abuja.

The News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) reports that zero-dose children are children who have yet to receive any vaccines on the routine schedule.

They are measured by the number of children who have not received the first dose of Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis vaccine.

Tanifum said that this commitment comes as part of ongoing efforts to reduce child mortality rates and ensure a healthier future for Nigerian children.

She emphasised the importance of immunisation in safeguarding children’s health and well-being.

“Immunisation is a fundamental right of every child, and we are fully committed to ensuring that no child in Nigeria is left behind when it comes to life-saving vaccines.”

According to recent estimates, Nigeria has a significant number of children who have not received any vaccination, commonly referred to as “zero-dose children.

“This vulnerable group is at a higher risk of contracting preventable diseases, which can have severe consequences for their health and overall development,” she said.

To address this issue, she said that the U.S. government  pledged to provide substantial technical support to Nigeria’s immunisation programmes.

“The assistance will continue to focus on strengthening the country’s healthcare infrastructure, training healthcare workers, and improving vaccine distribution systems to ensure that vaccines reach even the most remote areas,” she said.

Dr Hadley Ikwe, Senior Immunisation Specialist, Global Immunisation Division, Global Health Center, U.S. CDC, said that the U.S. government had continued to support the Government of Nigeria to reduce childhood illnesses and deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the country.

 Ikwe said that this was in collaboration with the Government of Nigeria and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners, optimise routine immunisation and sustain wild polio eradication efforts in the country.

“We are working with partners to eradicate all forms of polioviruses in Nigeria, increase routine immunisation coverage in Nigeria to 90 per cent by 2028 and reduce zero-dose children in consequential geographies.

“Also, integrate immunisation investments with other Primary Health Care services towards strengthening the health system,” he said.

According to him, vaccines have been one of the most impactful interventions in preventing illnesses and deaths in the history of public health.

“Vaccines have successfully eradicated diseases like smallpox, polio; eliminate diseases,  maternal/neonatal tetanus, control many others like measles, meningitis, yellow fever, pneumonia, hepatitis, pertussis, and more.

“Vaccines target priority diseases that can cause disability and death in all age groups,” he said.

He said that high vaccination coverage in a community could help protect the few unvaccinated individuals from infections and prevent disease outbreaks or epidemics.

He disclosed that there were no fewer than 19 million zero-dose children worldwide, 58 per cent of which live in just 10 countries.

“Four African countries make up 4.4 million zero children.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to large global increases in zero-dose children.

“With 2.3 million zero-dose children, Nigeria accounts for the highest burden globally. Only about 57 per cent of eligible children in Nigeria were fully vaccinated as of 2021,” he said.

He said that zero-dose children were susceptible to many diseases and that the introduction and spread of disease within a community could cause epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Also, the CEO of Sydani Group, Dr Sidney Sampson, said: “By reaching zero-dose children, we can significantly reduce child mortality rates and create a healthier future for Nigeria.

“Our partnership with the Nigerian government and other stakeholders will be critical in achieving this goal.

This commitment from the U.S. government is a testament to the strong partnership between our nations. Together, we can overcome the challenges and ensure that every child in Nigeria receives the lifesaving vaccines they deserve,” he said.

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