14 September 2017

Nigeria: Measles - Millions of Children At Risk As 33 States Yet to Pay Counterpart Funds

Photo: Marie Frechon/UN
(file photo).

States that do not pay their counterpart funds by tomorrow (Friday, September 15) will not participate in the upcoming Measles Vaccination Campaign, the FG has said. So far only four states have released theirs, while eight others have approved but yet to release the money.

By Ojoma Akor, Judd-Leonard Okafor, Mulikatu Mukaila (Abuja), Lami Sadiq (Jos), Shehu Umar (Gusau) , Hameed Oyegbade (Osogbo), Rakiya A.Muhammad (Sokoto), Hamisu Kabir Matazu (Damaturu), Eyo Charles (Calabar), Romoke W. Ahmad (Ilorin) & Emma Elekwa (Awka)

Millions of children in Nigeria are at risk as many states were yet to pay their counterpart funding to be eligible for the upcoming Measles Vaccination Campaign.

Measles is one of the leading causes of deaths among children under five years old in the country. Many communities still witness outbreaks of the disease. At least 166 measles outbreaks affecting 140 council areas across the country were recorded in 2015. Last year the outbreaks jumped to 183.

Campaign starts Oct 26

The campaign starts in the northwest October 26, shifts to north east November 30, the north central by February 1 and all southern states by March 8.

The federal government has released N3.5 billion to fund the campaign and the Federal Capital Territory and the 36 states of the country are also to pay their counterpart funds into an account dedicated for the vaccination.

Findings from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) showed that, as at Monday, only four states - Kebbi, Borno, Imo and Nasarawa - have released the counterpart fund for the exercise.

Eight states - Edo, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Niger and Zamfara - have approved, but yet to release the funds.

The remaining 25 states and the FCT showed neither evidence or release nor approval.

Kano State, it was gathered, has partially released N9 million out of more than N50 million, leaving local governments to pay the balance.

The Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and development partners have unanimously said that states that do not release their funds by September 15th, 2017 (today) would not be allowed to participate in the exercise, Daily Trust learnt.

NPHCDA Executive Director, Faizal Shuaib told a press briefing in Abuja on Monday: "We cannot continue to have poor quality coverage campaign in this country that leaves our children susceptible to measles infections and deaths."

Low coverage for measles vaccination has increased transmission of the disease-causing virus among children less than 10 years old, Shuaib said.

Our position, by states

Plateau State government said it was yet to provide its counterpart funds to the 2017 Measles Vaccination Campaign because the state only received the letter to that effect within the week.

The state commissioner of Health, Dr. Kunden Deyin told Daily Trust in a telephone conversation that, "we just received the letter this week and we are doing everything possible to try and meet the deadline."

Deyin explained that though funds for the counterpart funding was not captured in the budget, "we are trying to dialogue with our Chief Executive but anything can happen in the next three days."

On the September 15th deadline, Deyin expressed optimism that, the federal government will likely, "shift the goal post."

Zamfara State Commissioner for Health, Alhaji Sulaiman Adamu Gummi, said "I'm in Saudi Arabia now (Tuesday); call me again two days later so that I will have ample time to confirm from the officials at home."

Mr Sola Fasure, the Media Adviser to the Osun State Governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, said the state government's payment of counterpart funds for the campaign was inhibited by technical accounting hitch and that it would be resolved in the next two days (today).

In Sokoto State, the Executive Secretary, Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Sokoto Adamu Abdullahi Romo, said Governor Aminu Tambuwal had approved the counterpart funds for the measles campaign but for bureaucracies of transfer of funds from state government account to the agency's account. According to him, N27.9 million was approved as the counterpart fund.

Also speaking Commissioner for Health, Dr Balarabe Kakale, said the state government accords top priority to health and that it had never failed in such exercise. We did it last year and we had done it the previous year, he said.

As at press time, the Cross River state government was yet to confirm if it had paid her counterpart fund as government officials and officials in charge of health matters in the state refused to speak on the fund despite several calls and text messages sent to them.

The commissioner for health in the state, Mrs Inyang Asibong advised our reporter to contact her counterpart, the commissioner for International Development and Cooperation, who, when contacted did not respond to the enquiries.

A mother whose son suffered from the disease, Mrs Helena Essien Itu in Calabar South local government area of the state said lack of adequate vaccines at primary healthcare centres and even at tertiary health institutions in the state have made many children die from avoidable childhood diseases.

The Federal Capital Territory is set to pay her counterpart fund as the proposal has already been sent to the Minister Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello for approval, Acting Secretary of the FCT Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS), Mrs Alice Achu-Odey said.

Also speaking, the Acting Executive Secretary, FCT Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Mattew Ashikeni said that planning has commenced in earnest "As we speak, various committees that will continue from micro planning up to the macro level have already been established and they have commenced work. The FCTA is partnering with World Health Organisation (WHO) and training has taken off at different levels and we are very hopeful and optimistic that when the final approval comes from the Minister, other activities will also unfold."

The Kwara State Commissioner for Information, Mallam Mahmud T. Ajeigbe, said the state government has approved the payment of the funds and payment will be made soon.

In Anambra State, the Commissioner of Health, Prof. Joseph Akabuke said the state is not indebted to any counterpart funds as far as 2017 is concerned. He however said that of the 2018 coming up in March was being worked on.

The Executive Secretary, Yobe State Primary Health Care Management Board, Hajiya Hauwa Larai Goni, could not confirm whether the state government has paid the counterpart funds or not.

But, in a text message to our correspondent, she said they have submitted the proposal/request to central government for approval." We are awaiting approval and release from the Federal Government," she said.

The state commissioner of health, Dr Muhammad Bello Kawuwa said he believed that the state government must have paid the counterpart funds because it has never failed.

"Although it was not paid through my office but, I will soon confirm and get back to you" he added. We had not gotten a response as at press time.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Representative in Nigeria Wondi Alemu commended the Federal Government for the prompt allocation and complete release of funding for the campaign, adding "Several lessons have been learnt from past campaigns, and great potential exist in country."

Experts worried

Experts have also expressed concern over the high rate the disease in young children. The disease is caused by a virus which is usually passed through direct contact, and through the air.

"The highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person can spread to others through coughing and sneezing and the virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed," said Dr. Olajide Joseph Adebola, a global eHealth expert and President Society of Telemedicine and eHealth "If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected."

Medical experts said measles, if not well managed in children, could lead to deafness, mental retardation, convulsion, leave them vulnerable to other diseases, and in extreme cases death.

In 2014, measles was recorded in 190 children in the north, according to surveillance data.

Last year, incidence of the disease climbed to 527 children out of every one million.

The movement of internally displaced persons from recently liberated areas has made local populations increasingly susceptible and exposed to the disease. The importance of immunising children against the diseases cannot be overemphasized as it does not only reduce the infection but also minimizes complications, during outbreaks, experts have said.

As part of efforts towards tackling the burden of the disease in the country, the Federal Government with support from development partners will be implementing the 2017/2018 nationwide Measles Vaccination Campaign (MVC) from October, 2017 to March, 2018.

The campaign targets children between the age of nine months to 59 months across the country with at least an expected 95 percent national coverage.

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