Dealing with diarrhoea: Nigeria introduces rotavirus vaccine into its immunisation plan

Nigeria has the second highest number of rotavirus deaths in the world. The historic introduction of the vaccine into its routine immunisation system aims to change that.

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A baby receiving the rotavirus vaccine during the launch in Abuja. Photo credit: Ijeoma Ukazu
 

 

Rotavirus is a highly contagious, sometimes deadly, virus that commonly causes diarrhoea among infants and children under the age of five. Nigeria is particularly badly affected: approximately 50,000 Nigerian children under five die from the infection every year, 14% of the global total and the second highest number of deaths worldwide. 

With the recent launch and integration of the rotavirus vaccine into the routine immunisation schedule in Nigeria, the country expects to reduce at least 40% of morbidity and mortality associated with rotavirus infections amongst children.

“I am very happy with the rotavirus vaccine launch because many mothers do not have the money to buy the vaccine and now they will be getting it for free.”

The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Faisal Shuaib, says that the vaccine, which takes the form of oral drops, will be administered to infants at 6, 10 and 14 weeks, alongside other routine vaccines.

Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency. Photo credit: Ijeoma Ukazu
Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
Photo credit: Ijeoma Ukazu

Dr Shuaib says: “The vaccine rollout is supported by development partners including Gavi, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The vaccine is expected to be given to about seven million children across the 36 states in Nigeria for free over the next year.”

He goes on to say that the vaccine distribution will take place in phases, starting immediately with the 19 northern states with low immunisation coverage as well as the Federal Capital Territory. Phase two will focus on the 17 southern states of South West, South East and South South in October 2022.

He adds: “The introduction of the rotavirus vaccine is a big investment and, potentially, can have a substantial economic impact and save many lives. It is projected that the rotavirus vaccine introduction has the potential to avert over 110,000 deaths over 10 years in the country.”

Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, says: “Nigeria should continue to implement these strategies to address gaps in immunisation through the life course and to prevent deaths. If we stop vaccination, deadly diseases will return, and when people are not vaccinated, infectious diseases that have become uncommon can quickly return.”

A banner on display during the rotavirus vaccine launch in Abuja. ​​​​​​​Photo credit: Ijeoma Ukazu
A banner on display during the rotavirus vaccine launch in Abuja.
Photo credit: Ijeoma Ukazu

The impact of the rotavirus vaccine

Health worker and Head of Department at the School Health Unit, Primary Health Care Board FCT, Calista Obasi, is excited about the rollout. “The vaccine will bring protection and safeguard the health of every Nigerian child, with the number of diarrhoea cases presented at healthcare facilities being too many to quantify at present. I am positive that this narrative will change going forward with the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine.”

Obasi maintains that the integration of the vaccine with routine immunisation is a big step in ensuring no child is left out. She adds that the wide reach recorded with routine immunisation is a result of efforts by healthcare professionals to penetrate every nook and cranny of the country, especially hard-to-reach areas.

Agwu Deborah, a Community Health Extension Worker (CHEW) at the family health clinic, FCT, says, “I am very happy with the rotavirus vaccine launch because many mothers do not have the money to buy the vaccine and now they will be getting it for free.”

Agwu Deborah, a Community Health Worker at a Family Health Clinic, Abuja Photo credit: Ijeoma Ukazu
Agwu Deborah, a Community Health Worker at a Family Health Clinic, Abuja
Photo credit: Ijeoma Ukazu

Deborah explains: “I am elated for parents and their babies because for so long we have been hoping for a solution to this virus and now it is here in Nigeria.”

Khadijat Aminu, a mother who was at the facility to immunise her fourth child, says, “I don’t have any issue allowing an additional vaccine administered to my child, since I have never experienced any harsh adverse effects with previous routine immunisation. My three older children have experienced diarrhoea one time or the other, so coming here and learning that there is a vaccine that can help to ensure no more diarrhoea is a thing to be thankful for. I am grateful.”