African Vaccination Week (AVW) is a regional initiative led and coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa and implemented by countries within the region. It is commemorated annually in April and provides a unique opportunity for countries and partners to strengthen their national immunization programmes through advocacy, health education, communication tools, activities and partnerships, everything WAVA stands for. The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and development partners will be implementing various activities in Abuja, Borno and Oyo States to mark the week. The theme is “Close the immunization gap. Stay Polio Free!”
To us in Women Advocates for Vaccine Access, this week provides an opportunity for us to share the Nigerian immunization experiences and lessons learned. We celebrate the milestones achieved on immunization in Nigeria particularly the interruption of the transmission of wild polio virus. As Nigeria marches strongly towards polio eradication by 2017, we encourage NPHCDA and the states to avoid complacency. Efforts must continue to strengthen the immunization programmes further to ensure that every individual (particularly women and children) have unhindered access to routine immunization.
No doubt, Nigeria has made significant gains through immunization; this include a reduction in her under-five mortality rate by 41% between 2000 and 2015. However, the current under-five mortality rate is still unacceptably high at 109 deaths per 1,000 live births. About 3 out 10 of these deaths are caused by vaccine preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, meningitis, and measles. Closing the immunization gap will help to save more lives but costs more money. Nigeria has started an exit transition from Gavi funding support. This implies that the government’s share of the cost of vaccine procurement and storage will increase from N14 billion in 2017 to N40 billion in 2020; thereafter, an average of N52 billion will be required every year.
As we commemorate this week, we would like all stakeholders to reflect on the following questions; what more do we need to do to save more lives through immunization? How do we achieve uninterrupted access to vaccines? How can Nigeria close the immunization gap? Do we have sufficient resources to close the gap? How can we mobilize more resources sustainably to ensure continuous and equitable access to immunization?
In conclusion, immunization reduces inequities in health outcomes, as both the poor and the rich are protected. By preventing diseases and death, vaccines save money from treatment and increases productivity through a healthier work force. Consequently, it reduces poverty and promotes sustainable economic development. We highly encourage government not to see immunization as an expenditure, but rather as an investment. When countries invest one US dollar in vaccine programs, they stand to gain between 16 and 44 dollars in economic returns. We hereby call on government to invest more in vaccines in order to close the immunization gap and strengthen the Nigerian economy.
Dr Chizoba Wonodi
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