Paediatric Association of Nigeria

Date Published

Paediatricians tell students about immunisation as unvaccinated children hit 2.2million


As part of efforts to increase childhood immunisation uptake in the country, paediatricians under the aegis of the Paediatric Association of Nigeria have sensitised secondary school students in Lagos State on the importance of immunisation using art competition.

The paediatricians said the creative art competition to reach every Nigerian with the message of immunisation was organised by PAN, to celebrate this year’s Children’s Day, with the theme, “Investing in our Future means investing in our Children.”

The child health specialists said creativity speaks a lot, stating that the children’s art competition will not only help children to be better educated about immunisation but will also help parents, communities, and teachers to know more about immunisation through art.

President of PAN, Prof Ekanem Ekure, in her welcome address, reeled out some worrisome statistics on the number of zero-dose children in Nigeria and urged that immunisation becomes everybody’s business if the country must increase uptake.

The Professor of Paediatric Cardiology, College Of Medicine, University of Lagos, said it was sad that Nigeria accounts for 2.2 million out of the 4.4 million zero-dose children in West Africa, which makes Nigeria home to the second largest number of zero-dose children in the world.

Zero-dose children are those who did not receive a single dose of any vaccine in the routine national immunisation schedule.

They are measured by the number of children who have not received the first dose of Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis vaccine.

The Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital expressed concern that though no fewer than four million lives are saved annually and globally through immunisation, many under-five children in Nigeria were still dying needlessly from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Ekure said, “We decided to do an art competition to see how students can express themselves on the topic of immunisation using creative art.

“Sadly, the current statistics for immunisation coverage nationally for the age of about 14 weeks,  that is the vaccine that should have been received at the 14th week of age is just about  57 per cent generally for Nigeria.

“But if you know, say a child who has received all the vaccines that are in the National Immunisation Schedule, we are down to 23 per cent and that is low for our country.  That is what we mean by zero dose children.”

The Fellow of the West African College of Physicians said the low uptake of childhood immunisation was fuelling under-five mortality in Nigeria.

He added, “It is, therefore, not surprising that we have a very high under-five mortality rate. We have the largest number of under-five children dying in the world and, sadly, these children are dying from diseases that can be prevented. The government has made available vaccines free to be taken by children.

“West Africa has a population of 4.4 million zero-dose children and Nigeria has half of the 4.4 million. Very sad! The top areas where those zero children tend to be more located are urban slums, remote and hard-to-reach places in Nigeria.

So, a lot has to be done to reach children in those places to ensure they receive these immunisations. Four million lives are saved annually globally from having immunization.”

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, vaccines are among the greatest advances in global health and development and have safely reduced the scourge of diseases like polio and measles and eradicated smallpox while helping children grow up happy and healthy.

Suggesting the way forward, the paediatrician said immunisation should be everybody’s business in Nigeria, stressing that all stakeholders including the government, health workers, parents, communities, and traditional and religious leaders all have roles to play in increasing immunisation uptake.

The PAN president said, “The government’s role is of course to make the vaccines available, ensure the cold chain is sustained and there is no stock out. And to also ensure health workers are available to provide the vaccines when needed.

“The health workers have a responsibility to make sure that these children are taken where they should receive the vaccination.

“Also, the community — the traditional and religious leaders all have roles to play in this. We need traditional and religious leaders to lend their voices to this cause so that the lives of our children will be saved.

Major childhood killer diseases that are vaccine-preventable include influenza, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles.

“Then professional associations like PAN can advocate to the government, caregivers, and all the stakeholders.”

Ekure urged the media to debunk rumours and myths about immunisation.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Folasade Ogunsola, in her remarks said their role was to nurture the children to grow up and become responsible leaders.

The VC, who was represented by Prof Adebayo Babalola urged the children to grow up and become responsible adults.

Describing immunisation as God’s gift to man in her presentation titled ‘Facts in Immunisation”, an associate professor  at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr Iretiola Fajuolu, said immunisation is a very viable tool to prevent infectious diseases

Fajuolu, a consultant paediatrician at LUTH said, “It is our corporate social responsibility and it is a way of getting ourselves protected from harmful disease. Immunisation is a very viable tool to prevent infectious diseases. Vaccines have been made available for over thirty diseases, which are infectious diseases and what vaccines do.”

The neonatologist identified ignorance as one of the major drivers of low childhood immunisation uptake in the country.

“Our indexes are still very low. Ignorance is one major reason why our people do not go for vaccinations. So we need all hands on deck to educate people. We need the media to educate Nigerians on the importance of immunisation”, the paediatrician said.

The high point of the event was the emergence and presentation of awards to the winners of the children’s art competition.

Ugochukwu Anthony, an SS2 student from National College Gbagada, emerged as the first prize winner and was presented with a cheque of N150,000.

Akinsanya Ibukuoluwa an SS 3 student from Igbobi College, Yaba, emerged as the second prize winner and was given a cheque of N100,000, while Olawale Owonikoko received a cheque of N50,000 as the third prize winner.

Over 20 public and private secondary schools in Lagos according to PAN, participated in the children’s art competition.