‘More Nigerian children may die from vaccine-preventable diseases from 2021 unless…’

● Chairman, National Immunization Financing Task Team, Dr. Ben Ayene says there’s N101.5bn deficit in local funding of immunization 
● Says each Nigerian child needs “only” N13,000 for vaccination, yearly 

More children in Nigeria may die from vaccine-preventable diseases from 2021 should local funding of immunization in the country remain as it is this year. By that year, children in many states of the country will remain unimmunized as there will be no money to procure vaccines to immunize them. Unimmunized children are exposed to diseases and death. 

Donors led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative, GAVI, have made funds available for vaccination of children in the country in the past years, but by 2021, not a dime will from come from the organization for Nigeria’s immunization programmes. GAVI informed Nigerian government of gradual withdrawal of its funds from this year by reducing its grants by 20 percent, and the organization will continue in that manner until the next five years – 2021. 

Chairman, Health Sector Reform Coalition (HSRC), and National Immunization Financing Task Team (NIFT), Dr. Ben Anyene, stated the above while fielding questions from journalists at the weekend.  

He said: “One of the most critical things we must pursue is that GAVI that funds all new vaccines in this country has started withdrawing from Nigeria from this year. So, the input they make in terms of financial resources started to reduce by 20% and next year another 20%, 2019, 20% and by 2021, they will withdraw the 100 % and we are now going to be left to pay.

“Unfortunately, now, we are not even paying for the routine things. That is why I get worried when people see the 12.5 billion in this year’s budget for immunization and were clapping but the actual requirement is 114 billion naira and nobody is talking about it. 

“I am worried. The question is, will Nigeria be ready to finance her immunization 100 percent by 2021 with the requirement of about 560 million dollars? Or, is there any plan in the pipeline for that? And if there is any plan on the pipeline, implementation ought to start by now; we don’t have to wait till 2021 because already there is a gap.” 

He disclosed that for the past four years, the World Bank had been filling the gap in Nigerian’s immunization and that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and some other organizations also help. 

He said in the 1980s when United Nations children Fund, UNICEF, began to withdraw from the country’s immunization financing, coverage rate fell from 80% to less than 20% within three years. According to him, similar scenario will recur if government fails to find funding options for immunization in the country.

“There will be total stock out of vaccines, unimmunized children will increase and that will eventually lead to mass deaths of children across the country. Those who are lucky to be alive will be incapacitated for the rest of their lives.   

“The question is: How much does it cost to immunize a child? The total cost to fully immunize a child in Nigeria in his/her whole life is N13,000. Why can’t we afford it … If you say each state government should put down two billion naira for immunization for their people, is it too much? That already gives us 72 billion and the federal government can pay the rest. What is more important than the health of the people? 

“Alternatively, this oil we pump, we can dedicate, for example, two or three days to paying for immunization. We know how many barrels they pump per day so that we can pay for the immunization of our children,” he stated. 

He decried the dependence on foreign grants by both federal and state governments in the country, rather than looking inward and initiating working and sustaining initiatives for the health of the nation’s population. 

“The worrisome aspect is that the people who are supposed to realize the enormity of these issues are not realizing it, let alone talking about it. They are busy looking for money from partners,” he said.

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