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Federal Government launches innovative mechanism to reach unvaccinated children


In a significant development aimed at bolstering routine immunization efforts, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) introduced the Zero Dose Learning Hub (ZDLH) on Monday. This pioneering initiative is set to effectively identify and reach millions of children who have yet to receive any routine immunizations.

The unveiling ceremony, held in Abuja, featured Dr. Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director of NPHCDA, who highlighted the pivotal role of the ZDLH in enabling Nigeria to develop evidence-based strategies for identifying, monitoring, and reaching zero-dose children and the underserved communities they reside in.

The implementation of the ZDLH is a collaborative effort led by the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) in partnership with the Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) and receives support from Gavi through the NPHCDA.

Dr. Shuaib expressed his gratitude to Gavi, AFENET, and other key partners for their unwavering support in advancing vaccination coverage for COVID-19, routine immunization, and access to comprehensive primary healthcare services.

He also acknowledged the leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in prioritizing health as part of his renewed hope agenda. Dr. Shuaib highlighted that Nigeria declared a routine immunization emergency in July 2017 in response to alarming findings from the 2016/2017 MICS/NICS report, which revealed a distressing Penta 3 coverage rate of only 33 percent.

To address this issue, the government established the National Emergency Routine Immunization Coordination Centre (NERICC), which has significantly improved immunization coverage across the nation. The 2021 NICS report indicated notable progress, with Penta 3 coverage reaching an encouraging 57 percent.

However, Dr. Shuaib acknowledged that the government has not yet achieved its desired immunization coverage goal. To overcome challenges and obstacles, various strategic interventions have been implemented, including Optimized Outreach Sessions (OOS), Optimized Integrated Routine Immunization Sessions (OIRIS), Routine Immunization Intensification, and the Quarterly Lot Quality Assurance Survey (LQAS) to assess progress.

Dr. Shuaib also highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted routine immunization efforts and led to suboptimal coverage rates. Despite these setbacks, the government is committed to fortifying its immunization system with innovative approaches to reach every eligible child and protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The Zero Dose Learning Hub represents a significant step forward in this effort. It serves as a platform for enhancing the skills of individuals involved in immunization services at both national and subnational levels, empowering them to reduce the number of zero-dose children in Nigeria.

Dr. Shuaib concluded by emphasizing that the launch of the Zero Dose Learning Hub is a milestone moment in the global fight against preventable diseases, focusing on saving lives, safeguarding futures, and strengthening communities. He called on all stakeholders to remember that this initiative is about more than data and statistics; it’s about the lives saved, the dedication of healthcare workers, and the smiles of children.

In closing, Dr. Shuaib extended his deepest gratitude to all partners, healthcare workers, advocates, and communities, urging continued collaboration to ensure that every child in Nigeria is protected through vaccination.

Dr. Patrick Nguku, the Regional Technical Coordinator for AFENET, noted that Nigeria leads in the number of zero-dose children globally. He emphasized that the ZDLH represents an innovative approach to advance research and evidence utilization for enhancing immunization policies and programs.

Furthermore, Dr. Edwardo Celades, Chief of Health for UNICEF in Nigeria, stressed the critical importance of the Zero Dose Learning Hub in improving immunization coverage and equity in the country. He highlighted that Nigeria is the fourth country to implement this initiative, following Mali, Uganda, and Bangladesh. The hub’s phased implementation will prioritize states like Bauchi, Borno, Kano, and Sokoto based on specific criteria, including security concerns and the presence of IDP camps, among other factors.

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