Saving our babies by giving them those shots (Africa Review)

| September 2, 2015


September 2, 2015

Stories of people who reject or defer lifesaving immunisations in Kenya, Tanzania and other developing countries are all too familiar these days. One vaccine can be accepted in one part of the world yet rejected in other regions. The problem has become acute such that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised a red flag pointing out that parental reluctance to take children for vaccination undercuts the health gains made by our nations as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the WHO, about 1.5 million children die annually of diseases that could be prevented by available vaccines. Infant immunisation is essential for improving their survival. The world health body states in its vaccine editorial report that 131 out of 180 countries who filled a joint WHO/Unicef report last year gave several reasons for patients shunning vaccinations. The reasons were summed up into three Cs: Complacency, Confidence and convenience.

Many a times, religion plays a role in lack of confidence here various religious groups convince their members that the vaccine is not safe and might cause infertility in future among other things. Staunch believers in such faiths then keep their children away from clinics or immunisation centres. Once fear is created, it is so easy to ignore important vaccines.

Complacency then comes in when people give other things priority like going to the market or the farm, thereby missing vaccination schedules. So children end up suffering as their parents tend to other things. While convenience comes in terms of cost and access, many parents find some vaccines expensive and health centres hard to access leading to reluctance by parents.

Financial commitment

Whereas parents are partly to be blamed for not taking their children for life-saving vaccinations, various African governments also fail when it comes to this exercise. There is lack of basic information about the importance of vaccination. I don’t think it would be hard to liaise with administrators and village headmen to sensitise communities about immunisations.

This would help them gain confidence and trust the vaccines. It is also beneficial to discuss the benefits of vaccines with them as opposed to just forcing them to take their children for the shots without proper information.

It would also be great if our governments increase their national immunisation outreach by making the vaccines affordable and readily available. Some African nations like Kenya irrespective of the weak infrastructure and shortage of health workers can still offer great lessons in polio vaccination as health workers conduct door-to-door outreach programmes to ensure all the children get vaccinated.

So far, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco, Libya, Eritrea, Gambia, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Botswana have higher measles vaccination rates than the US, according to Good Governance African Survey of 2015 which was released in February.

This indicates that with increased political and financial commitment,African countries can maintain current achievements and make additional progress in immunisations irrespective of our rundown health systems, thereby reducing child mortality.

Twitter: @JanetOtieno

Category: Medical/Health Care

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