Vaccinate A Child
2.5 million-this is the number of deaths that vaccines prevent every year, according to the CDC(1). If you are reading this, you are one of the lucky people with access to such valuable and lifesaving information. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many people living in Nigeria. 77% of children aged 12 – 23 months in the country have not received all their routine vaccination(2). Lack of adequate awareness has led to prevailing inequalities in immunization coverage leaving so many children behind.
According to a survey commissioned by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) and conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in cooperation with the State Bureau of Statistics in Kano and Lagos, children whose mothers or primary caretakers had secondary or tertiary education were more than five times likely to be vaccinated as children whose mothers had no education or had non-formal education. The survey also found that children in rural areas are half as likely to be vaccinated as those in urban areas.
Grace Owojori, a public health researcher, was able to identify those inequalities while working in an immunization unit of some primary health care facilities in Nigeria. She also witnessed firsthand the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases among children and how negatively it impacted their quality of life and chance of survival. More specifically, Grace noted that only 1 in 3 children received three doses of pentavalent vaccine, a type of vaccine that provides protection to a child from 5 life-threatening diseases – Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Hib. What’s even more worrying is that 31% of children who received the first dose of pentavalent vaccine did not complete the three doses and 40% of the children did not receive any vaccine from the health facility.(3)
The issue with this low rate of vaccination, Grace discovered, is not that of access but more of awareness. She observed that though vaccines are provided free by government, completion of vaccination remained poor due to factors such as negligence of caregivers and poor information on immunization regarding its benefits.
Having identified these gaps, Grace started a project with the support of Peace First called "Vaccinate a child" which seeks to advance the immunization coverage of vulnerable children by engaging experienced Community health workers (CHWs) on better ways of counseling caregivers, ensuring the uptake of immunization services, and creating awareness on health education.
As a start, Grace and her team visited two primary health care centers and were able to reach out to over 50 caregivers, educating them on the importance of completing their children’s vaccination schedules. They were not the only ones doing the talking as after their first lecture, caregivers were given space to share the challenges they usually face that hinder them from completing their children’s vaccination schedule.
Grace did not forget about the unsung heroes who have a big role in health awareness-the community health workers. The WHO defines Community Health Workers (CHWs) as lay people who live in the communities they serve and who function as a critical link between those communities and the primary-healthcare system. In Africa, they provide low-cost interventions for common maternal and pediatric health problems.(4)
Realizing their importance in making her project successful, Grace and her team went on to educate ten community health care workers on improving their services as well as having a welcoming approach towards the caregivers.
Despite the huge success of her project, Grace admits to facing many challenges along the way. One obstacle that slowed down her work and made her rethink the way she is delivering her awareness lectures is the lack of cooperation from the caregivers. Despite that, she and her team found a way around it!
“ We noticed the caregivers were reluctant to give us attention, so to regain their attention we told them that we would give them incentives afterwards,” Grace noted.
As much as incentives and reminders have been put in place to encourage caregivers, it was evident for Grace that in order to scale up her initiative and reach more people, she needed to utilize the power of social media and local radio stations in spreading awareness to caregivers who are outside her community.
This is when she co-founded the Hltiquet foundation with her team member, Kehinde, as a platform to identify and address factors affecting a child's health. Grace hopes to involve more primary health centers, community health extension workers, and caregivers through her platform.
“ We are working on generating a database for caregivers that automatically sends reminders around the child’s vaccination schedule. We also want to include radio gingles as part of our outreach as we noticed that our community are most likely to listen to information coming from radio stations”, Grace says.
When asked what advice she would give to like-minded changemakers, Grace says“ The best gift you can give to your community is to put effort into developing it”.
(3) National Immunization coverage brief, 2017