By Katurak Yashim
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says Nigeria needs to spend the next two to three years building its immunisation infrastructure to enable the country to access and administer the WHO announced malaria vaccine.
Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Nigeria Representative, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Abuja.
Hawkins was reacting to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation for widespread administration of the RTS, S/AS01 (RTS, S) malaria vaccine to children in Sub-Saharan Africa and regions burdened by the P. falciparum malaria parasite.
NAN reports that WHO’s recommendation came after a pilot test of the vaccine on about 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019.
Hawkins said that although it would take some time before the vaccines were rolled out publicly, Federal Government needed to build the infrastructure to accommodate the vaccine.
He added that “WHO’s recommendation is very good news but it will take some time before the vaccines are available publicly. The immunisation structure in Nigeria is still evolving and it is a very robust structure.
“There is routine immunisation for children under five years, there are vaccines for polio, measles, pneumococcal disease, and the COVID-19 vaccines; the next one will be a vaccine for malaria.
“In the next two to three years, we need to build the infrastructure further so that it can accommodate the malaria vaccine, flu vaccine, and other vaccines that are coming.
“The key issue will be the cost, the call chain, the distribution system. The cost of the vaccine will be the fundamental decider for a country with high malaria burden as Nigeria to push this forward.”
Hawkins said that for countries like Nigeria, the vaccine would greatly help to reduce the burden of the disease as over 2,300 children under five years die every day from various diseases, including malaria.
He expressed optimism that the government would decide to adopt the vaccine as part of the national malaria control strategy, noting that “each country will decide on whether they want to adopt the vaccine or not
“I think that Nigeria will agree to use the vaccine and in time, see how it can accommodate it in the whole immunisation programme.
“All the diseases facing children are preventable. It is very important to look at the statistics; for instance, pneumonia is another problem which is where the pneumococcal disease is being introduced.
“UNICEF is working to reduce child mortality and disease burden on children in Nigeria; this will continue to evolve with time,” Hawkins said.
The UNICEF country representative said that the role of the UN agency in Nigeria’s immunisation programme was in vaccine management and supporting behaviour change at the community level.
He explained that to achieve vaccine management, “the agency continually focuses on developing market-shaping for the procurement of vaccines to enable more vaccines to get to Nigeria at cheaper rates.
“We do this to see how we can bring vaccines to countries like Nigeria at cheaper rates and a supply that allows the country to be able to use effectively.
“When the vaccine is rolled out, it will be massive for children in terms of reducing the malaria burden and mortality rate from malaria.
“The vaccine will also have a significant impact on other diseases such as measles, pneumonia, diarrhea, and cholera.”
Hawkins underscored the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in building a child’s immune system and protecting them from childhood-related diseases.
He called on mothers to ensure they engaged in exclusive breastfeeding, stressing that “the first 100 days of a child’s life is critical.
“Engaging in exclusive breastfeeding for the first few months is very important in building the child’s immunity, increasing micronutrients and reducing the chance of stunting.
“There are also vaccines available to safeguard the child and build the strength of the child in the fight against malaria, measles, meningitis, and other diseases,” Hawkins said.
NAN reports that the malaria vaccine, according to WHO, is administered in four doses to children from five months to reduce the malaria disease burden.
According to WHO’s report, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have so far been administered in the three African countries of Malawi, Kenya and Ghana, and have so far shown to have favourable safety profile.
WHO says that modalities on the roll-out of the vaccine are still underway.
The UN health organisation, however, says that countries burdened by malaria need to decide whether to adopt the vaccine as part of the national malaria control strategies.
NAN reports that WHO 2019 estimates show children under five years as most vulnerable group affected by malaria, accounting for 67 per cent of all malaria deaths worldwide.
In 2019, the African region was home to 94 per cent of malaria cases and deaths, making the region the most burdened globally. (NAN)