From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The COVID-19 pandemic has, unarguably, caused serious disruption in health care services across the world, particularly immunisation services in developing countries that are still endemic to vaccine-preventable diseases.
It has affected the gains made by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as well as other global partners in the fight for the rights of children, pregnant women and young adults, who are most vulnerable to certain diseases and inhuman treatment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown that lasted several months, medical services at various primary health centres (PHCs) and other health care facilities were hampered, resulting in serious disruption in routine immunisation and other services.
But soon after the lockdown was over, there was a surge of yellow fever outbreaks in Enugu, Delta and some other states, leading to several deaths. The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and partners were quickly mobilised for a vaccination campaign across the affected states.
As a follow-up, UNICEF chose to strengthen the NPHCDA’s effort through the launch of Routine Intensified Immunisation Programme (RIIP) in seven states, Ogun, Nasarawa, Enugu, Osun, Ekiti, Anambra and Delta, with poor record of routine immunisation coverage.
In Ogun State, nine local government areas (LGAs) with an estimated population of 3.508,939, in 108 wards, were targeted to receive different antigen vaccination, including BCG, HEP B-0, OPV, OPV, PCV, Penta, Rota, IPV, measles, yellow fever, meningitis and others.
Records indicated that Abeokuta North and South, Remo, Ikene, Ifo and Ijebu-Ode LGAs have poor record of routine immunisation, hence UNICEF and partners’s decision to channel resources and manpower to save the future of newborn babies in the affected communities.
At Iberekodo PHC, Abeokuta South LGA, the routine immunisation officer, Afolabi Ayodele, confirmed impressive response from young mothers who have, evidently, been properly enlightened by the community leaders on the importance of routine immunisation to the development of their children.
“We enjoyed the advantage of being in semi-urban area where mothers can easily access the PHC for whatever services they desire. With UNICEF’s support, we reached out to rural communities with enlightenment and immunisation services.”
At Kugba PHC, the community health extension worker (CHEW), Mrs. Idowu Margaret, said there have been several medical outreaches at Ile-Pako and other locations, with impressive response from nursing mothers.
She said: “Before we start immunisation exercise, the mothers are engaged in health talk with focus on the importance of immunisation to the overall development of the babies.”
In Abeokuta North, however, the situation was unimpressive. For instance, records of fixed and outreach immunisation exercises at Peace Estate, Ilesha-Awo, and other locations under the Olomore PHC indicated significant low turnout.
State officials attributed the development to lack of awareness and commitment of the immunisation officials. They promised to reawaken the routine immunisation officers to their task, promising an improved and better immunisation record soon.
In one of outreach locations in Arigbajo PHC, the mother of an 11-month-old child, Kudirat Akinsanya, said she deliberately denied her child the opportunity of vaccination because her first child allegedly died of complications from immunisation.
She said: “I gave birth to the child on December 12, 2012, and he died on November 13, 2013, few days to his first birthday, after complications from immunisation injection he took earlier.”
She was, however, advised by the health workers not to engage in self-medication but quickly submit her child to the nearest PHC in case of any reaction to the vaccine.
At Adewolu community under Coker PHC in Ifo LGA, Janet Amosu, mother of a 20-month-old boy, said: “I wasn’t aware of the importance of immunisation. Besides, I gave birth to my child at a PHC far from my place of residence. I was never educated on the importance of immunisation, until my encounter with a mobilisation team from UNICEF that opened my eyes to the benefit of immunisation.”
Routine immunisation officer for UNICEF, Patrick Akor, explained that provisions were made for PHCs to engage in meetings with community leaders in their target areas so the community leaders could educate and mobilise nursing mothers for the routine immunisation.
In addition to that, he said town criers armed with megaphones are hired to go round the communities to mobilise nursing mothers and pregnant women for immunisation.
Akor confirmed that a breakdown of financial provision was made for every one involved in the value chain of the exercise to encourage commitment.
Focal person for Obada PHC, in Ewekoro LGA, Mrs. Ogunsola Agnes, said their major challenge was insufficient human capacity as well as the ignorance of the people on the health benefits of routine immunisation for children. She also stressed the difficulty in convincing the Fulani women living in the nearby bushes to come for immunisation.
“Nevertheless, they are beginning to change their mindsets about immunisation, unlike before that it was difficult for us to convince them to bring out their children,” Mrs. Ogunsola said.