The second Gavi Zero-Dose Learning Hub (ZDLH): Inter-country Peer Learning Exchange, fondly referred to as “ZDLH-X2,” convened virtually on September 13, 2023. This remarkable event drew together 2,200 dedicated zero-dose practitioners hailing from 90 nations. In this assembly, close to 900 enthusiastic participants eagerly absorbed the wisdom stemming from the experiences of Nigeria and Uganda. With global partners and country delegates in attendance, the exchange of knowledge was truly a global effort.
One resounding message that emerged from this virtual gathering was the crucial role of data in driving improvements in reaching zero-dose children. Dr. Rita Atugonza, UNEPI’s Deputy Director at the Uganda Ministry of Health, emphasised the significance of understanding how well we are performing and identifying the children who are missing out. Without data, efforts to reach these vulnerable populations would remain unfocused.
Hilary Okello, a district-level worker in Uganda, echoed this sentiment by declaring that data-driven microplanning is a recipe for success. He confidently stated that, with this approach, they could reach all the unvaccinated and underimmunised children, providing hope that no child would be left behind. Besides, the challenges faced in reaching zero-dose children were also candidly discussed. Skovia Okello, a health facility-level worker in Uganda, shed light on the difficulties posed by mobile communities, insecurity issues, and hunger. These are real-world barriers that dedicated practitioners like Skovia confront daily in their mission to vaccinate every child.
Aminu Yahaya, representing the local government area level in Nigeria, emphasised the importance of engaging with communities and their leadership structures. He highlighted how working closely with community leaders can facilitate microplanning and ensure a more effective response. Innovative strategies were a focal point of the event, with Abubakar Muhammad Amali from Nigeria advocating for the integration of immunisation screening into primary health services. This holistic approach covers a range of public health services, ensuring that zero-dose children are identified and reached.
One valuable lesson that emerged from the discussions was the need to adapt plans when they don’t yield the desired results. As Jenny Sequeira, the ZDLH-X Guide on the side, praised Aminu Yahaya for his approach of continuously revising microplans based on community feedback and emerging challenges, it became clear that flexibility and learning from experiences are key. Skovia Okello also shared her approach of testing interventions at a single facility before expanding, illustrating the importance of piloting and refining strategies to ensure they are effective.
Lastly, George Ekwaro from UNICEF in Uganda shed light on the significance of partnering with schools to reach zero-dose children. Schools can serve as crucial points of contact to ensure that every child receives the required vaccinations.
In a world where global health challenges persist, the second ZDLH-X event showcased the power of collaboration, data-driven decision-making, and innovative strategies in reaching zero-dose children. It was a reminder that by learning from each other’s experiences and adapting our approaches, we can inch closer to the goal of universal vaccination coverage, leaving no child behind. This online exchange was more than just a conference; it was a beacon of hope and a testament to the dedication of practitioners worldwide.