Saving children in remote communities of north-central Nigeria through vaccination

Achieving long life through immunization

Safiya Akau, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria.
A mother holding her baby during immunization
UNICEF/Nelson Owoicho
24 April 2022

Access to routine immunization, a powerful public health tool for improving child survival, is a basic right for all children, but it is one that seems far removed for children born in north- central Nigeria, especially those living in remote villages.

Magdalene Terver, 35, lives in one of such distant villages - Tse Apah, a small community in Gwer West local government area of Benue State. Terver said she was worried when only one of her three children had received all the vaccines, he was supposed to have received by age five.

“I am happy my third child has now completed his immunization. It was very difficult for us to get to any health center for immunization because we live far away and, in an area, not easily accessible. But I am happy because the health workers now visit our community to vaccinate children and I’ve seized the opportunity to ensure that all my children are immunized.”

Magdalene Terver
A baby receiving a shot of vaccine
UNICEF/Nelson Owoicho

Even though immunization is free and compulsory in Nigeria, Benue State is one of several Nigerian states with low immunization coverage. The immunization rate is sixty-three (63%) percent (MICS/NICS 2021). This is a rise from 57% in 2016.

For Nigeria, reaching the zero-dose children is at the core of ensuring all children are reached with life-saving vaccines across the 774 LGAs in 36 states and the FCT.

UNICEF’s advocacy success encouraged government’s partnership in the zero-dose campaign and led to the intensification of vaccination efforts, including a campaign launched in June 2021. During the campaign 52,274 children were vaccinated in the 10 UNICEF-supported local government areas of Benue State with focus on hard-to-reach settlements.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the challenge of routine immunization. Its impact on vaccination and other disruptions such as insecurity have also strained the health system in Nigeria. But the vaccination campaign conducted in the hard-to-reach local government areas of Benue State recorded a high turnout of caregivers who brought their children for vaccination.

A nurse in the process of vaccinating a child in Benue
UNICEF/Nelson Owoicho

Mercy Agbe, a 40-year-old mother of five, and a native of Yandev, in Gboko local government area of Benue State, said she has been mobilizing mothers to come and immunize their children, so they don’t lose them to any preventable disease, the same way she lost her sibling to measles.

Agbe said that the impact of immunization on her children’s health has been tremendous.

“My brother was not as lucky as my children. He died in a measles outbreak when we were young. My children are fortunate because vaccines are now available, and I have ensured all of them are vaccinated.”

“Honestly, I have seen the importance of immunization and that is why each time I listen to the announcements - either in the market square or in church - I feel duty-bound to go out and persuade mothers who have not yet taken their children for vaccination to do so.”

In Benue, UNICEF, with support from Alwaleed Philanthropies, is changing the narrative through the routine immunization intensification exercise.