Thought Leadership

Nigerian Women’s Empowerment, Key to Immunization Success

3 Mins read

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted healthcare systems worldwide, including routine immunisation services. In Nigeria, the consequences were particularly severe, with many children missing out on essential vaccines due to lockdowns and limited access to healthcare facilities as health systems were disrupted. As a result, the number of zero-dose children — those who have not received any vaccines — has seen a concerning uptick.
As we commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024, it is imperative to highlight the critical role that Nigerian women play in safeguarding their children’s health and well-being, especially in terms of immunisation. In recent years, the number of zero-dose children in Nigeria has grown alarmingly, exacerbated by the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners, including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance intensified strategies to optimise the “Big Catch-up campaign” to improve immunisation coverage across the country.
The campaign proposes country-level measures to support a tailored approach to reach children with life-saving vaccines. This entails increasing health workers’ knowledge and ability to prepare for catch-up vaccines, developing community engagement strategies, coordinating efforts, and allocating resources allocation, among other things. One key strategy for addressing low immunisation coverage is to empower Nigerian women, who are often the primary caregivers and decision-makers for their children’s health. Empowered women have the agency, time, and financial resources to prioritise their children’s immunisation requirements and overcome barriers that may prevent them from accessing healthcare services. As a result, the first “bump” on the path to full immunisation coverage will be addressed automatically.

This year’s IWD calls for intentional investment in women to accelerate progress. First and foremost, the government must play a pivotal role in supporting Nigerian women by implementing policies and initiatives that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. This includes investing in education and skills training programmes for women, ensuring equal access to healthcare services, and enacting laws that protect women’s rights and enhance their socio-economic status.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Education is a critical tool for empowering women and increasing their ability to make informed choices about their own health and that of their children. According to the Nigeria Zero-Dose Situation Analysis report, there is a clear trend between immunisation coverage and a mother’s level of education. The report showed that children of mothers with primary or higher education, report higher immunisation coverage across antigens and states when compared with children with mothers with no education.
However, it is worth noting that the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, 2018 lacks comprehensive data on the level of education mothers in the country have received. Therefore, there is an urgent need for updated research and data collection efforts to better understand Nigerian women’s educational status and tailor interventions accordingly if the nation is to improve immunisation coverage.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Furthermore, empowering women also entails addressing socio-economic barriers that hinder their ability to seek healthcare services for their children. Many women face financial constraints, lack of transportation, and other logistical challenges that make it difficult for them to access immunisation services. By providing financial assistance, transportation subsidies, and incentives for immunisation, the government can help alleviate these barriers and ensure that no child is left behind.
The path to zero-dose
Empowering women can lead to greater vaccination rates in children. However, beyond mothers and caregivers, female vaccinators and health workers also play a huge role in the path to zero dose and need to be empowered too.
Investing in Nigerian women is not only a matter of gender equality but also a strategic imperative for improving child health outcomes and reducing the number of zero-dose children. As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, let us recommit ourselves to supporting Nigerian women and safeguarding the health and well-being of future generations. Together, we can build a healthier, more equitable world for all.

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