By Muhammad Amaan
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said 189,452 children in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states did not receive certain vaccines as at December 2022, referring to them as zero-dose children.
This is as Nigeria makes up 2.2 million zero dose of the 48 million children around the globe who did not receive a single regular dose.
The Health Specialist, UNICEF Sokoto Field Office, Dr Danjuma Nehemiah, disclosed this on Sunday in Sokoto during a two-day Media Dialogue on Routine Immunisation and the Zero-Dose campaign.
The dialogue was organised by UNICEF, in collaboration with the primary healthcare development agencies of Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.
Zero-dose refers to children who did not receive a single dose of antigens they should have taken at their age to give them protection from vaccine-preventable diseases.
The health specialist, therefore, said immunisation is a key priority for the next five years.
He added that “in spite of decades of progression to increase access to immunisation in lower-income countries, at least 12.4 million children still go without basic routine vaccines every year.
“UNICEF is now focusing on reaching these zero-dose children because zero-dose children account for nearly half of all vaccine-preventable deaths.”
He, however, said that the goal is to reduce the number of zero-dose children by 25 per cent by 2025, and by 50 per cent by 2030, which would also mark the closing of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Giving a breakdown of the figures, Nehemiah said that Sokoto accounts for 122,015 zero dose children in 13 local government areas, Zamfara, with 47,085 in six areas and 17,352 zero dose children in three local government areas.
“Some of the indicators show that with the way we are going, it will take so many years for us to achieve our target.
“If after every five years you are achieving three per cent increase only, then it will take so many years to reach the 85 per cent target expected for routine immunisation coverage.”
Nehemiah said that Kebbi has achieved more than three-fold improvement over the two other states due to intervention that was provided some years back by the European Union, where a lot of outreaches were done in hard-to-reach communities.
Citing reasons some gave for non-vaccinating the children, he listed lack of knowledge or information, lack of time or other family issues and mistrust or fear of side reactions.
Others are religious beliefs, misinformation and rumours, vaccination fatigue (too many rounds), inability to understand the benefits of vaccination, absence of vaccine card and service delivery issues such as distance.
He added that to address the non-compliance, continuous advocacy and engagements at all levels are important, as well as continuous engagement of community structures to promote the benefits of immunisation.
Dr Nehemiah said that reframing messages to communicate the benefits of immunisation to different target audience was also essential.
He stressed the need to reach communities with zero dose children, saying “these unprotected communities are not only potential epicentres of disease outbreaks, but they are also often deprived of other basic services and suffer from entrenched inequities.
“This means that collaboration across government Ministries, Departments and Agencies and civil society could bring benefits far beyond immunisation alone.
“By working together, we have a chance to leverage all our strengths to reach these communities with everything they need for a healthy, successful life, from nutrition and education to clean water to immunisation.”
The UNICEF Chief of Field Office for Sokoto, Dr Maryam Darwesh Sa’id, said immunisation is the most cost-effective, high-impact intervention for dealing with vaccine-preventable diseases, especially in children under five years.
Represented by the Health Manager, UNICEF Sokoto Field Office, Dr Shamina Sharmin, she said Nigeria had made progress in immunisation, with national Routine Immunisation (RI) coverage of children receiving all three doses of the pentavalent vaccine at 57 per cent, citing the National Immunisation Coverage Survey (NICS) 2021.
However, she said, the completeness of RI coverage stands at 36 per cent, while for Northwest Nigeria, the figure is only 25 per cent.