For many years, man has observed the nature of diseases and how they infect and transmit from one person to another. Through the various epidemics in history, scientists have learnt painfully on how to prevent recurrence of such infectious diseases, giving rise to the term called Vaccination or as it is also known, Inoculation. Popularly, Edward Jenner created the first vaccine in 1796 by inoculating patients with cowpox, a milder virus in cattle to protect against the Smallpox, but actually, there has been evidence of inoculation that predates Edward Jenner’s discovery.
Some sources claim that Emperor K’ang Hsi of China had his children inoculated against Smallpox in the late 1600s. Shortly after the beginning of the Cholera pandemic, Louis Pasteur, who would later develop the Rabies vaccine, was born a month before Jenner’s death in 1823. After an accidental experiment, Pasteur developed the chicken cholera vaccine, which was the first laboratory-developed vaccine in 1879, and in 1884, Pasteur announced his success in the development of the Rabies vaccine. Developments in vaccine production continued over several years and in 1945, the influenza vaccine was approved for use.
Contributions to vaccine production were not the sole responsibility of a country alone but were additive efforts by different countries. Chronologically, across decades, the yellow fever vaccine, the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine, the first vaccine against Haemophilus Influenza type B disease and Rotarix, another rotavirus vaccine were all approved for use.
Immunization is, by far, one of the most cost-effective methods in healthcare. The use of vaccines has prevented about 2-3 million child deaths and an estimated 600,000 adult deaths globally, and particularly in Africa, childhood mortality and morbidity from Polio, Measles, Diphtheria, Whooping cough, Tuberculosis and Yellow fever have reduced very significantly. Immunization began in Nigeria in 1956, and by early 1990s, the country achieved universal childhood immunization coverage of 81.5%, but since then, there has been a decline in immunization coverage. Liberia experienced improved immunization coverage after the most devastating Ebola outbreak in 2014.
There are also significant developments across other countries as well in immunization coverage. The top causes of child mortality in Africa consist of diseases of which some of them such as Measles and Diphtheria are preventable by vaccine, but enough effort has not been made so far in combatting these diseases. More can still be achieved if efforts are pooled together.
What diseases do we prevent by vaccination?
The immunization schedule in most African countries contains a list of vaccines against Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, Pertussis, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis B, Rotavirus, Pneumonia, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Meningitis and Septicaemia, Chickenpox, Human Papillomavirus and Haemophilus Influenza. A complete vaccination procedure requires that a child completes all the doses for all vaccines on the schedule to provide full immunity against the diseases.
An unvaccinated child is a child that has not received any dose for any of the vaccines. A partially immunized child is a child that has received some doses for the vaccines but has not completed the whole regimen and a fully immunized child is a child that has received all doses of vaccines specified in the immunization schedule. A country with a higher proportion of unvaccinated children signifies very poor immunization coverage, but when most members of the child population are fully vaccinated, it signifies a very extensive coverage.
According to a study carried out, although quite a smaller proportion of children were not immunized or vaccinated at all, a higher proportion of partially immunized children indicates poor coverage in African countries. Taking the first dose of the DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) vaccine is not enough; completing the three doses is immunity. Completing the OPV1 (Oral Polio Vaccine first dose) is not adequate; OPV2 and OPV3 are both important.
Why do we need Immunization coverage?
Immunization coverage in Africa is not extensive enough and needs to be improved. It is not a one-time project, more and more children add to the population each year and there is a need for continuous and expansive immunization programme. Prevention is obviously better than cure, but in this case, it is not only better, it is also cheaper. Vaccination costs the nation less than treating an equivalent number of patients.
The Way Forward?
Extensive immunization is key to preventing a great number of childhood deaths and mortality.
Attaining global vaccination coverage targets requires an increase in healthcare investment, a better structural framework for provision and supervision of vaccination, a heightened sense of communal responsibility among citizens, dispel of rumours surrounding immunization and an increase in vaccination supplies and storage equipment.
The right to life is inalienable and every child deserves to be vaccinated for protection against diseases. Achieving Health for All starts with complete immunization of every child.