Nigeria launches major push to protect millions of children against deadliest form of diarrhoeal disease

By Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Nigeria launches major push to protect millions of children against deadliest form of diarrhoeal disease

In partnership with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), WHO, UNICEF, and other partners, the Federal Government of Nigeria – through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) – introduced the rotavirus vaccine into the country’s routine immunization program.

The launch is a critical first step in a push to reach children across the country with the rotavirus vaccine, which protects against rotavirus infections, the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in young children worldwide. Childhood diarrhoea is the third leading cause of childhood mortality in Nigeria, accounting for 15% of all deaths in children aged under five.

The vaccine will initially be available in 19 states and the FCT, starting with zones with lower vaccination coverage, and will later be rolled out to the remaining 17 states – with the aim to reach 7 million children within the first 12 months. The rotavirus vaccine will be administered orally to infants at 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age.

“This introduction is a major milestone in the push to protect more Nigerian children against vaccine-preventable diseases. The rotavirus-related disease is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in young children worldwide, and a key contributor to childhood mortality in Nigeria,” said Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “We commend the continued commitment of the Government of Nigeria and will work with all partners to support this vital program, which will reach children with this life-saving vaccine.”

In order to reach so many children quickly, partners have planned to roll out several service delivery strategies such as daily vaccination in select sites as well as mobile sessions to reach hard-to-reach rural communities. Vaccination will also be integrated with other primary health care services and diarrhoea prevention strategies such as hand washing, exclusive breastfeeding, and provision of quality water and sanitation facilities.

Protecting young children through this vaccine also decreases rates of rotavirus infection in unimmunized and elderly populations. Vaccination will also help reduce the use of antibiotics, which are often – ineffectively – prescribed to treat rotavirus infections, thus helping stem the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Concerted efforts by NPHCDA and partners to strengthen health systems over recent years have allowed the country to gradually increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage, while at the same time maintaining routine immunization as part of its Optimized SCALES 2.0 strategy. The latest WHO/UNICEF Estimates of National Immunization Coverage (WUENIC) indicate that Nigeria is one of few countries that maintained gains in routine childhood immunization in 2021 at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted essential health services around the world.