Though Nigeria accounts for less than 2% of the world’s population, nearly 10% of all new born deaths occurs in Nigeria, revealed Gavi Private Sector Champion for Immunisation in Africa, Dr. Awele Elumelu, during her keynote address at the official flag off of African Vaccination Week in Abuja, hosted by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). Nigeria has the highest number of unimmunized children in the world, estimated at 4.3 million children in 2018.
“We cannot continue to lose 2,600 children under age 5 every day in Nigeria, especially when their deaths are easily preventable by vaccination. 1 in every 8 Nigerian children will die before their fifth birthday. Nearly 10% of all new born deaths in the world occur in Nigeria. Why? Our infant mortality rate is 75 out of 1000 (75/1000); a staggering 8% of the global total. Every day, Nigeria loses 127 women of child bearing age. We cannot afford to normalize these deaths,” she said.
Highlighting the fact that Nigeria’s trend in maternal mortality rate has not improved in the last 3 decades (1990 to 2015), she said: “As my friend, Dr. Shuaib, Executive Director of NPHCDA, often laments, a plane full of women crashes every day in Nigeria. We lose hundreds of young mothers and we must do something fast. We cannot continue like this.” Even as she acknowledged and gave commendation to government for improved vaccine availability in LGAs from ~30% in 2014 to 80% today, she appealed to the government to do more across board.To deliver the responsive, modern, quality healthcare system that Nigerian citizens deserve, Dr. Elumelu who is CEO of Avon Medical, and chairwoman of leading Nigerian health insurance company, Avon Healthcare, also rallied for increased private sector participation and engagement; “Government cannot do everything. There are serious challenges with primary health care delivery, and gaps in service, access, availability and innovation – these are all areas that the private sector can intervene in. We as the private sector can and must do more.”
As Gavi Champion in Africa, Dr Elumelu is a strong advocate for innovative public-private partnership models that bring together the expertise and resources of governments, private donors, industry, and international organisations to deliver life-saving vaccination programmes while ensuring maximum cost efficiency. Since inception in 2000, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has immunised more than 700 million children worldwide, saving nearly 10 million lives in the world’s poorest countries through this unique model.
Dr Elumelu, who is also a Trustee of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, further identified the role of advocacy that the private sector is well suited to lead as a result of its platforms, networks and capital, “The private sector has a strong voice and platform that it can use especially in advocacy: to raise awareness for more grass root sensitisaton and increased government funding in our healthcare budget. We need to create a sense of urgency and a national outcry of exasperation. The unnecessary deaths of our babies, children, mothers and women is unacceptable and there are no excuses. Vaccines are available but our children are still dying. We must interrogate why.”
Drawing attention to the role of parents in improving vaccination rates in the country, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director, NPHCDA stated, “There are families due to ignorance who refuse to make their kids available for vaccination. Certain outbreaks we have seen in the last few months underscores the need for parents to make their children and wards available for vaccination.”
Following the event, Dr. Elumelu attended a vaccination outreach programme, also as part of the African Vaccination Week, with mothers of the Kuje local community in Abuja.
Speaking as the Guest of Honour, she compelled mothers to vaccinate their children, “As a mother of seven children, I have ensured that all of my children are vaccinated but. It is not enough to vaccinate your children alone, but you must tell your neighbours and your friends to bring their children for vaccination. If one child is affected, all of us are at risk. We will all be in danger. So, I thank you our dear mothers for coming out and for your patience, but there is still more work to be done. Be the vaccine ambassadors in your community.”