It was between 11 am and noon on a recent Wednesday when health workers with their Geostyle boxes filled with the Yellow fever (YF) vaccines got to Kpansia area of Yenagoa Local Government Area (LGA), Bayelsa State.
Having lost a sibling to YF in 1996, Tarekebi Ebi-Jones, a 40-year-old single mother of two was waiting patiently for her turn to get her children vaccinated against the disease.
“I first heard of Yellow fever in late 1996 when my younger sister suddenly developed yellow eyes and a high fever. It was a difficult time for my family as my parents took her to a patent medicine vendor, who prescribed some drugs, but she soon went into seizures, and subsequently coma, before she died.
As I grew older, I got to know that YF is preventable through immunization. We must ensure that we are vaccinated against it. And that is why I was going round to invite other mothers to bring their children out for this vaccination”, she says.
Boosting immunity against disease
Yellow fever is a vaccine-preventable disease. More than 47 countries, including Nigeria, are endemic for YF and experience outbreaks regularly.
From January to December 2022, Nigeria recorded 36 presumptive positive cases and 18 confirmed cases of the disease. In light of this, Nigeria has been implementing a preventive mass YF vaccination campaign through the global strategy to Eliminate Yellow fever Epidemics (EYE) for disease control, especially in high-risk areas in the country. The EYE’s goal is to eliminate Yellow fever epidemics by 2026, through a single-shot vaccine that gives lifelong immunity and aims to protect almost 1 billion people in Africa and the Americas.
In Bayelsa, the state government in collaboration with WHO Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is conducting a preventive YF immunization campaign (28 January to 10 February 2023 targeted at eliminating the disease in the country.
The 14-day) exercise aimed at boosting herd immunity to YF and reinforced national efforts targeted at eradicating the deadly infectious disease globally.
To ensure the success of the campaign the government also partnered with traditional leaders to raise awareness about the importance of the immunization exercise.
“As a traditional leader, it is my responsibility to make sure the people under my leadership take advantage of all the health interventions provided by the Government. I use my role to sensitize and mobilize the people on the importance of vaccination. This has been fruitful because the people trust my judgment, and sometimes need my endorsement before they accept the vaccines”, says, Chief Akintola, the traditional leader of Okutukutu community in Yenagoa LGA.
Additionally, the Executive Secretary of the Bayelsa State Primary Healthcare Board, Mr Christopher Ogbointuwei explains that the government is working with WHO and other partners to ensure that vaccination teams are trained and equipped enough to be able to deliver a quality campaign.
“We are ensuring that eligible persons in hard-to-reach areas, especially zero-dose persons are provided with the opportunity to be vaccinated. The campaign is also integrated with the COVID-19 vaccination for eligible persons above 18 years and Vitamin A supplementation for children,” he says.
The campaign which targeted ages 9 months to 44 years, was aimed at reaching
1, 789, 209 persons in 105 wards in the eight LGAs of the state
As of day 10, of the campaign, a total of 1,359,798 eligible persons have been vaccinated with the YF vaccine and 61, 287 with COVID-19 vaccines.
On her part, the WHO Zonal Coordinator, Dr Kolude Olufunmilola stresses that the YF campaign is part of the global strategy to Eliminate the Yellow Fever Epidemic (EYE) by 2026.
She noted that a single case of YF in the world is regarded and taken as an emergency and advised citizens to take the vaccine as well as other vaccinations.
Due to the peculiarity of the geographical terrain in Bayelsa state, a major challenge of immunization coverage is the difficult and peculiar terrain, as about 70% of settlements are in riverine areas and 43% are in hard-to-reach places.
Dr Kolude says the WHO provided some additional personnel, transport, and stipends, to enable teams to hire boats to access some communities”.
“WHO is also supporting the State to prevent and control the spread of communicable and vaccine-preventable diseases, by strengthening surveillance, early warning, and response system, especially in the areas of technical support, logistics, training, and human resources,” she adds.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Nigeria.