The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) has taken a significant step in enhancing immunisation coverage in Nigeria with the launch of the ‘Zero Dose Learning Hub (ZDLH)’.
The executive director of NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib announced the initiative during the launch event in Abuja, highlighting its potential to generate evidence-based strategies for reaching zero-dose children and underserved communities across the country.
The ZDLH, implemented by the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) in collaboration with the Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) and support from Gavi through the NPHCDA, addresses a critical issue in Nigeria’s vaccination efforts. Zero-dose children –those who have not received their first dose of Penta 1 – are at a higher risk of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).
Shuaib expressed his gratitude to Gavi, AFENET and other partners for their support in enhancing vaccination coverage for COVID-19, routine immunisation and comprehensive primary healthcare services’ accessibility.
He acknowledged the government’s response to the 2016/2017 MICS/NICS report, which revealed a distressing Penta 3 coverage rate of only 33 per cent. This led to the declaration of an emergency concerning routine immunization in July 2017 and the establishment of the National Emergency Routine Immunisation Coordination Centre (NERICC) to address the issue. Since then, immunisation coverage has significantly improved, with Penta 3 coverage reaching 57 per cent in the 2021 NICS report.
However, Shuaib recognised that the government had not yet achieved its designated immunization coverage goals. To address these challenges, the government implemented strategic interventions such as optimized outreach sessions (OOS), optimised integrated routine immunisation sessions (OIRIS), routine immunisation intensification, quarterly lot quality assurance survey (LQAS) and other strategies that have gradually yielded positive outcomes.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted routine immunisation efforts, resulting in suboptimal coverage rates. Nevertheless, the government emerged from this crisis with renewed determination and innovative approaches to strengthen its immunisation system, with the unwavering goal of reaching every eligible child and preventing vaccine-preventable diseases.
The ‘Zero Dose Learning Hub’ is not just a platform; it symbolises the government’s dedication to reaching every child, regardless of their circumstances or place of birth. Its purpose is to empower individuals engaged in administering immunisation services at both national and subnational levels, enabling them to play an active role in reducing the number of zero-dose children in Nigeria.
Shuaib emphasised that this launch represented a significant milestone in the global fight against preventable diseases. It’s about saving lives, securing futures and strengthening communities. He expressed his deepest gratitude to all partners, healthcare workers, advocates and the communities they serve, urging everyone to continue working together to protect every child through vaccination.
The regional technical coordinator at AFENET, Dr. Patrick Nguku noted that Nigeria led the list of countries with the highest number of zero-dose children worldwide. The learning hub represents an innovative approach to advancing research and evidence-based improvements in immunisation policies and programming in the country. Nigeria is the fourth country to implement the zero-dose hub, joining Mali, Uganda and Bangladesh. The hub will be implemented in two phases, spanning April to December 2023 in four priority states (Bauchi, Borno, Kano and Sokoto).
The chief of health representing the UNICEF country representative in Nigeria, Dr. Edwardo Celades stressed the significance of the zero-dose learning hub as a critical initiative to improve immunization coverage and equity in the country. This initiative is expected to make a substantial contribution to the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government, in partnership with Gavi, the vaccine alliance, launched the GAVI ‘Zero Dose Learning Hub’. This platform is poised to drive positive change within the country’s borders and serve as a model for other nations to replicate, positioning itself as a cornerstone for progress in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases.