Immunisation Without Vaccines

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A pneumonia patient on admission
A pneumonia patient on admission

Pneumonia has become a great killer in Nigeria in the last three years because its vaccines are not always available during the National Programme on Immunisation campaigns

|  By Augustine Adah  | Dec. 24, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

YETUNDE Oluwasanya, 24, a student of Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu, has always been in good health. But last month, she started having difficulty in breath and pain in the chest. That prompted her to go for a medical check- up at a private hospital in Ikorodu. She was perturbed when, after the doctor’s diagnosis, she was told that she was suffering from pneumonia. She has since been going for regular treatment in the hospital. “I didn’t know about the disease until recently when I was told by the doctor that I am suffering from pneumonia. Even now as I am talking with you, I feel tired as if I have been working for some hours. I am struggling to wash the few clothes I have with me,” Yetunde said.

It was the same experience with Obike Elezue, a trader, who has been battling with the attack of pneumonia for years until recently when he was cured. It all started in 2004, when the middle- aged man started experiencing difficulty in breath and pain in the chest. The pain continued for days until he visited a hospital at Somolu, Lagos, where the doctor examined him and confirmed that he was suffering from pneumonia. The pneumonia attack almost marred his marriage at time when he had to be travelling from Lagos to the Eastern part of the country. The hospital was able to give him drugs that only relieved him of the ailment at that time. “It was not easy at all for me at that time because I was preparing for my wedding and was shuttling between Lagos and Abia State on a regular basis” Obike said.

Oluwasanya and Obike are examples of the few lucky Nigerians who have survived pneumonia described to be the second largest killer of children especially those under five years in Nigeria. About 146,000 to 177,000 children die annually from pneumonia attack. Medical experts are worried over the increasing figures and lack of government’s action to address the scourge. When pneumococcal immunisation was registered in Nigeria in 2010, many Nigerians especially mothers thought the solution to the scourge of the disease has come but barely three years after, the vaccine is yet to be included in the National Programme on Immunisation, NPI.

Dorothy Esangbedo, President, Paeditrician Association of Nigeria
Dorothy Esangbedo, President, Paeditrician Association of Nigeria

Only Delta State on November 12, immunised about 2,000 internally displaced children against the disease in commemoration of the World Pneumonia Day. The exercise was carried out in conjuction with Pfizer, World Health Organisation, WHO, Rotary International, and Medical Women Association of Nigeria.

Enrico Ligger, country manager, Pfizer, explained that the exercise would prevent children from attack of the disease throughout their life time. “What we are doing is immunisation, and this is the first state in Nigeria to get the children immunised against pneumonia,” Ligger said.

The failure of both the state and federal governments to include the vaccine in the regular NPI and lack of proper knowledge of the disease are causing worries and anxiety in the medical profession. Dorothy Esangbedo, president, Paediatric Association of Nigeria, is alarmed by the number of children killed by pneumonia and urged the federal government to include pneumonia vaccines in the NPI programme.

The Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria, MWAN, has also made a similar appeal to the federal government. Muji Ogundeji, a pediatrician, Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Abeokuta, Ogun State, has attributed the high number of death recorded every year in Nigeria to lack of proper awareness about the disease. To her, if the people are properly educated about the disease, they would take precautionary measures that would save thousands of lives every year. The inclusion of the vaccines in the regular NPI would also reduce the annual death rate. She observed that the failure of the government to include pneumonia in the regular NPI could be as a result of the high cost of pneumonia vaccines.

“I don’t know why they did not include it in the regular immunization, but I perceive it may be as a result of the high cost of the vaccines,” Ogundeji said. When the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced in 2010, a dose cost $50 but it has now come down to $20. Contrary to the popular belief that pneumonia is caused by exposure to cold weather and cold water, it is caused by pneumococcal virus and streptococcus pneumonia found in bacteria. Both thrive in unhygienic environment. Therefore, access to good water and clean environment is a possible way of keeping one safe from the disease. Nursing mothers are also encouraged to practice exclusive breast feeding especially in the first six months.

Exclusive breast feeding is regarded as the natural immunisation that mothers are expected to adopt against pneumonia and other killer diseases. Proper diet by nursing mothers and children is capable of boosting immunity against the disease. Pneumonia is suspected when a doctor examines a patient and hears abnormal sounds in the chest and the diagnosis is confirmed by a chest x-ray. Some of the symptoms of pneumonia include cough with sputum production, fever and sharp chest pain. Doctors use antibiotics in the treatment of the disease.

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