Nigeria has taken a significant step towards safeguarding the health and prosperity of its youngest population through the introduction of the Zero Dose Learning Hub (ZDLH). This pioneering project, initiated by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), is dedicated to locating and providing assistance to the vast number of children who have not yet received any standard immunisations.
Dr. Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director of NPHCDA, expressed the importance of the ZDLH in generating evidence-based strategies to measure, monitor, and reach these “zero dose” children and the communities they live in. The ZDLH is being implemented by the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) in collaboration with the Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN), with support from Gavi through NPHCDA.
Nigeria’s commitment to improving vaccination coverage and accessibility to primary healthcare services is evident in this initiative. Dr. Shuaib expressed gratitude to the partners involved in enhancing vaccination coverage for COVID-19, routine immunisation, and overall healthcare services.
The journey towards launching the ZDLH began with a declaration of emergency concerning routine immunisation in Nigeria back in July 2017. Alarming findings from the 2016/2017 MICS/NICS report revealed a distressing Penta 3 coverage rate of only 33 percent. In response, the government established the National Emergency Routine Immunisation Coordination Centre (NERICC).
Since NERICC’s inception, there has been significant improvement in immunisation coverage across the country, with the 2021 NICS report indicating a notable increase, with Penta 3 coverage reaching 57 percent. However, Dr. Shuaib acknowledges that the government is yet to achieve its desired immunisation coverage goal.
Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on routine immunisation efforts, resulting in suboptimal coverage rates. Nevertheless, the government has emerged from this crisis with renewed determination and innovative approaches to strengthen its immunisation system.
The launch of the Zero Dose Learning Hub represents a beacon of hope for the children of Nigeria. It signifies the government’s unwavering commitment to reaching every child and ensuring that no child is left vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. The goal is clear: to empower individuals involved in immunisation services to play an active role in reducing the number of zero-dose children in Nigeria.
Dr. Patrick Nguku, the Regional Technical Coordinator of AFENET, highlighted Nigeria’s position as a country with the highest number of zero-dose children globally. The ZDLH is a novel approach aimed at advancing research and evidence utilisation to improve immunisation policies and programming.
The hub will be implemented in two phases, with priority states including Bauchi, Borno, Kano, and Sokoto, chosen based on specific criteria, including security and the presence of IDP camps.
Dr. Edwardo Celades, Chief of Health representing the UNICEF country representative in Nigeria, emphasised the critical importance of the Zero Dose Learning Hub in improving immunisation coverage and equity in the country.
The launch of the Zero Dose Learning Hub is a significant milestone in Nigeria’s efforts to protect its children from vaccine-preventable diseases. It represents a promise of brighter and healthier futures for the youngest members of society. With continued collaboration and dedication, Nigeria is taking crucial steps to ensure that every child is protected through vaccination.