How cultural beliefs leave children at the mercy of vaccine-preventable diseases

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Children continue to die from diseases for which there are preventive vaccines in Nigeria.

Indeed, children are denied access to routine vaccinations or necessary shots during vaccination exercises across the country.

The results reveal that some communities and parents across the country do not allow their children to be vaccinated due to one cultural belief or another.

Unvaccinated children therefore suffer infections, disabilities and death from diseases such as diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles and pneumonia.

This in turn contributes to the high under-five mortality rate in the country.

In Sokoto State, for example, our reporter discovered during a field visit that some people in the state reject the vaccination of their children due to political and socio-cultural beliefs.

The field visit was carried out with the support of the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information, in collaboration with UNICEF.

The investigation revealed that there are a significant number of unvaccinated children in the state, which explains the number of illnesses and deaths during the latest measles outbreak in the state.

More than 1,000 cases of measles were recorded in the state between January and March, some of which led to the death of some of the affected children.

The state’s health commissioner, Dr Muhammad Ali Inname, said the measles outbreak was seen mostly in unvaccinated children.

He said a negligible number of vaccinated children were affected but with a very mild form of the disease.

The outbreak is believed to have killed children in the villages of Dan Madi, Kaurare and Aljannare in Tambuwal LGA of the state.

Inname said affected communities have been sensitized on the cause of the disease; how it is transmitted and how it can be prevented.

He said medicine was also being provided for the treatment of affected children in the regions.

Daily Trust has learned that some residents reject vaccination due to a cultural belief that vaccinated children grow up stubborn.

“A lot of people in my area refuse to vaccinate their children because they think all the stubborn children in our area have been fully vaccinated,” said Sokoto resident Malam Ibrahim Goronyo.

Gagi District Chief Malam Umar Sani said: “Some people see anything important that comes to us as an ideology of the western world to control our people. That is why they are unwilling to support vaccination exercises.

He said that if people adhered to routine vaccination, children would be safe, “because we will stop experiencing diseases that kill children like measles.”

The monarch also disapproved of the low level of media engagement in vaccination drills by state stakeholders.

On the way forward, he said, “We need the support of traditional leaders on women and children’s health issues and there is a need to involve youth and adolescent girls because the girl who is likely to marry in the next two to three years when it is sensitized, at least it is equipped with information on the basic needs of children.

“So if she gives birth, she knows she has to take the child for a routine vaccination.”

He also stressed the need for the involvement of school children through the creation of clubs on vaccination.

He said traditional leaders could also be trained on how to coordinate and monitor vaccination exercises in their areas.

“They can monitor the people doing the exercise; know the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated children and see how they can intervene,” he added.

Primary Health Care Development Agency Executive Secretary Adamu Romo said some people in the state were not allowing their children to be vaccinated for political reasons.

“Because the government of the day is not from their party, so they reject everything that comes under this government.

“Few people reject them for religious reasons and that is why we have an advocacy and social mobilization department which is led by very learned religious leaders.

“So, if there is a refusal based on religion, the committee will convince them of the need to subject their children to vaccination, citing verses from the Koran and hadiths.

“That’s why this type of rejection has decreased significantly because we have made the heads of these families our ambassadors in their regions.”

He added that rejection cases are drastically decreasing in the state unlike before when they had to go out every day to deal with such complaints.

Regarding the measures taken to address the problem, he said there were development partners like “New Incentive” who used cash to incentivize women to bring their children for routine immunization.

He added that they are holding a review meeting every day during the exercise to resolve gray areas.

Dr Uche Ewelike, public health physician and health economist, said that if communities engage in good immunization practices by mobilizing full immunization for children 0-5 years, “the herd effect of vaccines also protects communities. So it makes that community healthier and improves the quality of life in those communities.


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