By SOLA OGUNDIPE
Currently, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, Nigeria has the highest burden of infant and child deaths from pneumonia and other pneumococcal disorders in Africa and is second only to India in the world.
Pneumonia is still the world’s biggest killer of children under the age of five and research shows that most cases of pneumococcal diseases are quite preventable and treatable with existing tools, such as vaccines.
When asked to mention the greatest challenge to pneumococcal vaccination in Nigeria, Dr. Taiwo Ladapo, a consultant paediatrician at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idi Araba, Lagos, did not hesitate mentioning funding.
“Right now, the greatest challenge to pneumococcal vaccination in Nigeria is funding,” she told Vanguard Health Features. in an interview.
“Although there are general factors that limit vaccination all over the world, such as problem of accessibility, electricity, adequate storage, etc., apart from these, the greatest challenge has been making the funds available. When the right political will is generated, and funds are available, the vaccines will also be available,” she asserted.
Ladapo, a specialist in nephrology (kidney defects), is one of those keenly pushing for adoption the pneumococcal vaccine into Nigeria’s routine immunisation schedule.
An experienced frontline scientist who has done extensive work on immunisation in Nigeria, including effects of the pneumococcal and measles vaccines, Ladapo has strong conviction that every child deserves to be given the pneumococcal vaccine, irrespective of cost.
“Pneumococcal immunisation not yet in our routine immunisation schedule although there are plans to begin that this year (August)
“The pneumococcal vaccine is available, but it is not free. Those who want it now must buy it, and this leaves a window open for continued infection of children whose parents cannot afford it.”
Further, Ladapo harped on the essence of political will, private sector partnership, support from stakeholders, and awareness.
“As much as more awareness is being generated now than before, still, more needs to be done to raise awareness and advocacy. A commendable milestone was the National Vaccine Summit in Abuja which had all the stakeholders in attendance. But we need to do more.
She tasked the media to come up with strong, creative health education campaigns.that would address cultural and traditional beliefs,, as well as dangers and effects of vaccines and their acceptability.
She also talked about Nigeria developing a decisive policy on immunisation. “Government should come up with a decisive immunistaion policy. The diversity of Nigeria notwithstanding, all the children must be immunised.
“We should tow the line of developed countries where standardised measures are in place to guarantee that every child is immunised. There should be a body in place to monitor all these. For instance, if a child has not been vaccinated at the age of five, there should be repercussions. It may take a while, but we will get there,
Although Ladapo is worried about Nigeria’s unpredictable political climate, she is optimistic, however, that if the current political momentum is sustained, there will be great advances in Nigeria.
“Evidence has shown there is massive reduction in burden of pneumococcal disorders wherever the pneumococcal vaccine has been introduced and coverage is adequate. For instance, in 1998 when the US introduced pneumococcal vaccine, they were recording 90 deaths per 100,000.
“By 2009, the burden had been cut to 30 deaths per 100,000. If we look at this trend we can be rest assured that where coverage is adequate and vaccines are available, certainly there will be reduction in under-five deaths and this will contribute to attainment of MDG 4.