By Chioma Obinna
Bola and Tola are twins. Born in Ikorodu, Lagos, the children, both boys, have grown in the last two years, playing, laughing and crying in the same manner until the day Bola was diagnosed with polio. Unlike Tola, he can no longer walk.
Although the twins were born healthy, neither of them was given routine immunisation to protect against vaccine preventable diseases. Their mother never took them to a health centre after birth and the outreach vaccination teams missed their home.
There are thousands of Nigerian children like Bola and many more are at risk of going the same way. To date, communicating to ensure that every child is protected against vaccine preventable diseasse has remained difficult. While it is important that the oral polio vaccine drops be given to each child every time there is a polio campaign, these drops can only prevent against polio. For protection against other diseases, routine immunisation is essenatial.
Nigeria ranks among the four countries, along with Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, where polio is still endemic. Although, the country is making efforts to eradicate polio and other childhood killer diseases as well as tackling its poor health indices, the country is still plagued by the ghosts of the October 2003 controversy surrounding the immunisation programme against polio in which three states in northern Nigeria (Kano, Katsina and Jigawa) boycotted the polio immunisation campaign, it was not surprising that Nigeria has remained squarely in the eye of the storm about polio eradication. But UN agencies are now praising efforts of state governors from Nigeria whose involvement in the immunisation campaigns is reaching the key targets.
Routine immunisation outreach services have recently been improved in this area in most States of the Federation. One State worthy of mention is Lagos where it is mandatary for routine immunisation to be provided simultaneously in all the Stateâ€™s Primary Health Centres on daily basis. This, according to the authorities from the State government is to ensure that no household is missed for routine immunization or during polio campaigns.
State Commissioner for Health, Dr Jide Idris, notes that when children are not protected through immunisation, it is easier for them to fall ill, and their body cannot fight against viruses entering their system.
It is a sad fact hat when Bola sees his twin brother get up and walk around, he tries to do the same but canâ€™t. Bola cries as he crawls across the floor, while Tola runs in front, not even looking back at Bola who is left behind to walk through the journey of life all alone.
Said Idris â€œWe all have the power to protect our children through immunisation, which is the right of every child. If we immunise all our children under the age of five with polio drops in every campaign, we will never have to see more children like Bolaâ€.
In a chat with Good Health Weekly, the Health Commissioner who noted that Lagos State has developed action plans to tackle childhood diseases, mentioned the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness Strategy (IMCI) aimed at reducing morbidity and mortality in children under five years, combining improved management of childhood diseases with aspects of nutrition, immunisation, malaria control, treatment of respiratory infections amongst others.
Idris said low political commitment on the part of some local government leadership and resultant lack of ownership; pockets of non-compliance and rejection of Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) in the State amongst other challenges are being addressed.
But the Lagos State government is committed to addressing the various challenges besetting routine and supplemental immunisation activities in the State, because immunisation remains crucial that is why it has continued to attract world attention so much so that the important and key Millennium Development Goal (MDG 4) is paramount
Idris noted that child survival interventions especially immunisation, apart from constituting part of the rights of the child, have been widely acknowledged as a veritable strategy towards achieving this laudable goal hence the National Immunisation Plus Days are set aside to immunise children 0-59 months.
â€œThese challenges are being addressed at the highest levels of government such that the we have now scheduled regular meetings with Executive Chairmen of all LGAs/LCDAs.
â€œA major fall out of these meetings is that each of the Chairmen is expected to under take the accelerated rehabilitation of existing dilapidated primary healthcare infrastructure; construction of new PHCs in underserved areas and improvement in environmental sanitation of communities amongst others.
Also, provision of political leadership on immunszation activities such as through flagging-off of IPDs at their respective LGAs and immunisation outreach sessions to get to underserved and hard-to-reach communities and communities that are not accessing the PHC/Immunisation services for any reason whatsoever. This is being supported by the State government with funds for six months already released to implement outreach services throughout the State.â€
Idris explained that the number of immunisation posts and immunisation sessions in the health facilities have all been increased coupled with massive advocacy and aggressive social mobilisation strategies targeted at the communities to heighten awareness and redirect the health-seeking behaviour of community members as well as participating in border synchronisation meetings with Ogun State and Benin Republic so as to reduce the number of missed children along such borders where increased number of wild polio virus outbreaks has been recorded of late.
While the State is making more effort to ensure that polio and other childhood diseases are checked, in August this year, thereâ€™ll be a stakeholdersâ€™ forum on the eradication of polio in Lagos aimed at bringing together parents, government officials, caregivers, health workers, vaccinators amongst others to discuss on the way forward on polio eradication in the state.