When the flood hit Anambra State from September to November 2022, thousands of families were displaced and forced to leave their homes, with the underprivileged children being the most affected.
The situation was critical. Flood-displaced children were already living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and the lack of access to routine immunization made them more susceptible to preventable diseases.
Edith Onwuka, Anambra State’s Immunization Officer quickly realised things were going out of hand. There were severe disruptions in immunization activities, leading to many dropouts in almost all the antigens. With a sense of urgency, Edith reached out to UNICEF, and in collaboration with the Anambra State Ministry of Health and funding from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) grant, launched an ‘intensified immunization’ campaign, aiming to reach every child in the flood-affected local communities with life-saving vaccines and protecting them from infectious childhood diseases. “Even though immunization services were carried out in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp, sadly, not all the households affected by the flood were reached because they were not in the camp to access the immunization services.” Onwuka said.
UNICEF, in collaboration with the Anambra State Ministry of Health and SIDA, quickly supported 130 health facilities with 624 immunization outreach sessions to bridge the gap and get missed children immunized. One such beneficiary of the facilities was two-year-old Miss Chukwukelu Chisom. Her mother Chukwukelu Peace expressed her gratitude stating that the road to their recovery from the 2022 flood is being smoothed through the support of UNICEF. She expressed joy when she presented her daughter Adaeze to be immunized.
With the dedication of hundreds of health workers in Anambra, these health facilities were made functional, and delivered vaccines to over 3,000 under-five aged children recovering from the flood in their affected communities. Edith Onwuka commended these efforts, highlighting their biggest achievements during the ongoing intensified immunization campaign in the Health Workers Week.
A long Road Ahead
Vaccines are one of the greatest advances in global health and development. For over two centuries, vaccines have safely reduced the scourge of diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type B, measles, polio, and others. Nigeria’s rates of maternal, infant and under-five mortality and morbidity are among the highest in the world, with wide disparities. Nigeria carries the highest burden of deaths of children under five years globally – averaging 2,350 every day, a total of 858,000 per year. Vaccinated children are healthier, happier, and better learners, and have economic benefits that ripple across their communities.
Juliet Chiluwe, Chief of UNICEF Field Office Enugu, said, “We have records that vaccinated children can walk, play, dance and learn, thanks to immunization efforts worldwide. Vaccinated children do better at school, with economic benefits that ripple across their communities. Today, vaccines are estimated to be one of the most cost-effective means of advancing global welfare. They act as a protective shield, keeping families and communities safe, even in extremely vulnerable situations.”
Despite the longstanding benefits of vaccines, low immunization levels persist, leading to sustained backslides on childhood immunizations. UNICEF, with its partners, continues to invest in health workers and institutions to ensure that children everywhere are protected from preventable diseases. Although there has been a steady increase in immunization coverage, with 56 per cent of children between 12 and 23 months receiving three doses of pentavalent vaccine in 2021, up from 50 per cent in 2018.
The percentage of “zero-dose” children, however, is almost 30 per cent. Despite attainment of wild-polio free status in 2020 in Nigeria, a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreak is still ongoing, as well as several other recurrent outbreaks (measles, yellow fever), all preventable by high immunization coverage, indicating a worrying trend in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also presented new challenges to immunization efforts. The pandemic has led to disruptions in health services, including immunization campaigns, and at times vaccine hesitancy due to misinformation and fear. UNICEF, with its partners, is working to address these challenges by supporting vaccine delivery, strengthening health systems, and countering vaccine misinformation.
The intensified immunization campaign in Anambra State is a testament to UNICEF’s commitment to protecting the most vulnerable children, even in the most challenging circumstances. By reaching out to flood-displaced children with life-saving vaccines, UNICEF is providing them with a lifeline that will protect them from preventable diseases and help them grow up healthy, happy, and strong.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNICEF Nigeria.