Imo State leads the way in Nigeria for child vaccination

Immunizations save children from killer diseases

Ijeoma Onuoha-Ogwe, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A nurse vaccinating a baby
KenethObi/2021
27 April 2021

At the Umuguma Health Center Owerri West in Imo State, Nigeria, nurse-in-charge Maria Evans is one of many health workers who regularly take on the ‘vaccine challenge’ - a challenge to ensure they vaccinate as many children as they can against preventable diseases.

For nurse Evans, Thursdays are the day each week when mothers and caregivers bring their children to the infant welfare clinic at the health center for their vaccines. It’s a routine she looks forward to.

A baby receiving vaccination
KenethObi/2021
Maria Evans, nurse in charge at Umuguma Health Center Owerri West in Imo State, seen performing her routine immunization task

“With the vaccines readily available, every child under 5 years has the right to be immunized against the childhood killer diseases,” she said.

It is that commitment that has helped make Owerri West the top local government authority in Imo State for immunizations, with over 98 per cent coverage, according to quarterly government rankings by the State Primary Health Care Agency. It has also helped Imo State stand out as one of the top states in Nigeria for immunization services, with more than 169,890 children immunized in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, well ahead of the national benchmark.

A nurse
KenethObi/2021
Maria Evans, nurse in charge at Umuguma Health Center Owerri West in Imo State

The relatively high immunization coverage in Imo State over the past year – over 70 per cent - is a success story in a country where immunization rates can be as low as 6 percent in some states – and an example of what can been achieved through strong political commitment and leadership, sufficient funding, and efficient coordination between governments, development partners and communities.

“The Government of Imo State is committed to saving the lives of children through efficient immunization services - ensuring no child is left behind,” said Rev. Sr. Dr. Maria-Joannes Uzoma, Executive Secretary of the Imo State Primary Health Care Development Agency.

“We appreciate the goodwill of partners like UNICEF, who are very consistent with their support, ensuring vaccines are available with an effective and improved cold chain system,” she added.

A Catholic nun
KenethObi/2021
Rev. Sr. Dr. Maria -Joanne Uzoma, Executive Secretary to Imo State Primary Health Care Development Agency-ISPHCDA

Immunization saves 2 to 3 million lives globally each year by protecting children against vaccine-preventable diseases and plays a central role in ending preventable child deaths. UNICEF’s immunization programme helps identify children who have been left behind by health systems and brings them life-saving care.

Vaccines now protect more children than ever before. However, millions of infants in Nigeria and across the world still did not receive any vaccines last year. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown did not help, as very low immunization levels were recorded among poor and marginalized children. This has compromised gains made in previous years.

A vaccination exercise
KenethObi/2021
Rev. Sr. Dr. Maria -Joanne Uzoma, Executive Secretary to Imo State Primary Health Care Development Agency-ISPHCDA offering Immunization Services to beneficiaries of COVID-19 vaccination exercise in Owerri west LGA Imo State
A Catholic nun receiving vaccination
KenethObi/2021
Rev. Sr. Dr. Maria -Joanne Uzoma, Executive Secretary to Imo State Primary Health Care Development Agency-ISPHCDA offering Immunization Services to beneficiaries of COVID-19 vaccination exercise in Owerri west LGA Imo State

The strong vaccination numbers in Imo State are a reminder of the efforts of health service providers and should help beneficiaries maintain hope for the best immunization outcomes.

“Vaccinating children in every community is our goal,” said Dr Ifeyinwa Anyanyo, UNICEF Nigeria Health Specialist. “Wherever children are not immunized, their lives and communities are at risk. UNICEF will continue to tailor new approaches to vaccinate every child in every community, no matter how remote or challenging.”