By Sola Ogundipe
In the wake of the recent resurgence of the wild polio virus in Borno State and proliferation of other Vaccine Preventable Disorders, the Federal government responded swiftly by strengthening the national immunisation programme.
Part of the measures taken was the introduction of the Inactivated Polio Vaccine, IPV, and the Pentavalent vaccine – a combination of five vaccines-in-one that prevents diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b, into the national routine immunisation scheme.
Funding challenge: However, a worrisome challenge confronting sustenance of the national immunisation programme is the imminent withdrawal of funds by some key international partners and donors that are currently supporting the nation’s immunisation programme. This gradual withdrawal is expected to begin from 2017.
With the funding problem looming in the horizon and warming up, efforts are on to ensure continuous access to vaccines for child immunisation in Nigeria.
In response to this development, the Women Advocates for Vaccine Access WAVA, a coalition of 34 women-led and women-focused organisations spanning the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria came up with a novel initiative.
The idea was to identify and appont “Vaccine Champions” that will advocate for continuous funding of immunisation programmes in their communities, the States and the nation at large.
Last week, in Abuja, at the inauguration of the Vaccine Champions and Small Grants Programme, the Country Director, Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Centre National Convener, WAVA, Dr. Chizoba Wonodi, said the platform is to empower women’s group to play a role in advocacy for immunisation service delivery, uptake and financing.
“The Nigeria immunisation programme is facing a funding cliff, as the Gavi Alliance support declines over time. Gavi co-pays for new vaccines, by 2017, Nigeria will begin an accelerated transition from Gavi support. By 2020, we will be on our own in funding the vaccine programme,” Wonordi explained.
“WAVA is a coalition of diverse organisations working towards universal access to vaccines. Through advocacy, WAVA aims to provide sustainable immunisation financing to ensure equitable access to vaccines.
“It also aims to promote the delivery of high quality and equitable immunisation services to all Nigerian people, while creating better awareness and uptake of immunisation services,” she stated.
“We are honoured that seven illustrious leaders in Nigeria have accepted both the honor and mandate to be WAVA champions.
A public health expert with wide-ranging experience working on projects in Africa, Asia and America, Wonodi observed the vaccine advocates and champions are expected to add their voice in advocating for increased budgetary allocation and financing for vaccines at various tiers of government to make vaccines readily available to people of all socio-economic strata.
“Better immunisation services will secure the health of our children, create a healthier society, and bring about increased socio-economic returns on investment for a prosperous nation,” Wonordi noted.
“We know that vaccines save money. It does not take a doctor or an economist to know that if you prevent a disease like pneumonia or meningitis, then it saves you the cost of treatment, the lost wages associated with – say an admission in a hospital and the lost productivity that may come with long term sequel of diseases like meningitis, which if it didn’t kill you, it will maim you.
She said the idea is to inspire developmental organisations to come together to build a critical mass of advocates that would demand for universal vaccine access and financing in the country.
Government response: Further, she said: “I must admit that the government of Nigeria, through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), the Federal and State Ministries of Health are doing a good job with the vaccine programme. They have introduced four new vaccines in four years and they have plans to introduce more.
First, not all children have access to vaccines or immunisation – either because their parents cannot or do not want to take them to be vaccinated (demand-side problems) or because the immunisation services are not accessible, affordable or appropriate for them (supply side problems).
“As a result, only one in 5 children in Nigeria, receive all the full complements of vaccines. If you are an infant and your family is poor, your mother is not educated, you live in rural area or you live in the northern part of the country, you are less likely to be vaccinated. That brings up the issue of equity. Every child has a right to be protected from harm, including harm from vaccine preventable disease.”
A breakdown of Nigeria’s funding requirement for vaccines for 2016-2025, shows that the requirement of N277 million (N85 million provided by the Federal government and N191 million by GAVI) had been covered in full.
WAVA’s activities range from grassroots mobilization to high-level advocacy towards sustainable immunization financing.
Advocacy support: According to the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, the investiture of the Vaccine Champions at this time global funding support for vaccines procurement is shrinking, is timely.
“The launching of WAVA small grants that supports advocacy efforts for sustainable immunisation services at the grassroots is also very commendable. I have no doubts that these lofty advocacy strategies will raise more influential voices and interest that is required to prevent budget cuts, ensure more fund allocation to health and immunization, and increase demand for immunization services so that all eligible Nigerians, no matter their socioeconomic status or where they live, will have unhindered access to life saving vaccines.
New vaccines: According to Adewole: “In recent times, we have introduced three new vaccines into the routine immunisation system (Pentavalent, PCV and IPV) and there are concrete plans to add four more new vaccines (Rota, HPV, Men A and MR) before 2020.
“We have expanded the cold chain at the periphery with 1,656 new solar direct drive (SDD) vaccine refrigerators, repaired 1,200 broken down refrigerators, procured a cold room for every State and expanded storage temporarily at the national level.”
Those that accepted to be Vaccine Champions include the Founder/President, The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, WBFA, Mrs.Toyin Saraki; Wife of the Kebbi State Governor, Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu and Wife of Ogun State Governor, Mrs. Olufunso Amosun.
Others are the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Health Services, Federal House of Representatives, Kaduna State, Hon. Muhammad Usman; Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow, Harvard School of Public Health, Dr.Muhammed Ali Pate; the Iyaloja-General/President-General of the Association of Market Women/Men of Nigeria, Chief FolasadeTinubu-Ojo, and Head of Stations, Cool Wazobia Info, FCT, Mrs. Martha EbeleYough.