Nigerian doctors say they’re concerned that the strong emphasis being placed on polio vaccines may inadvertently cause parents to skip other needed immunizations for their children. VOA’s Joe De Capua reports.
Because of the upsurge in polio cases, local and international health officials have launched intense vaccination campaigns. A delay in immunizations earlier this year in northern Nigeria – due to concerns by some that the vaccinations were not safe – is blamed for polio outbreaks in a number of neighboring African countries.
Nigerian doctors say the polio vaccines are very important. But they say they fear parents are under the mistaken impression that when their children are immunized against polio, they are also being protected from other childhood illnesses.
Dr. Clifford Okafor is the medical director of Harmony Specialists Hospital in Awke in Anambra State. Dr. Okafor says there’s a specific routine for immunizations for all Nigerian children.
He says, "In this routine immunization, in the first week of life, the child is immunized against tuberculosis, is given BCG vaccine. In the first month, he’s given the triple vaccine for pertussis - that’s whooping cough - tetanus and diphtheria. Then he’s also given the polio vaccine. This is repeated for three months. And at nine months that child is given the vaccine for measles."
He says during the polio campaigns, children are often immunized in their homes. As a result, many children are not going to health clinics for other routine vaccinations.
"We go to the people. They don’t come to the health facilities. Now adequate information and a campaign need to be done again for them to know that a lot of things still remain. And that these mothers need to go to the health facilities for the first contact they need in life for their children, just immediately after delivery," he says.
Dr. Okafor says at the health clinics, parents are taught about family planning and how to prevent diarrhea in children, which can be life threatening.
Also, the spread of HIV/AIDS, he says, is indirectly threatening young children’s health.
"(As a result of) The increase in tuberculosis from HIV children are more likely to get tuberculosis if they have not been immunized. And it’s not going to happen in a day or two. For measles, we are likely in the next few years to have an increase," he says.
Nigerian doctors are calling for a new campaign to stress the importance of all the childhood immunizations.
He says, "Oh, the same way polio was advertised. Med-jingles, ngos, getting around to take to the people, community-based organizations like ours, who they can believe, including the churches, will be mobilized. Once that is done, these misunderstandings are usually forgotten."
Dr. Okafor is also regional medical director of Community Health Education and Development for Africa, also known as COHEDA.