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“You let a doctor take a dainty, helpless baby, and put that stuff from a cow, which has been scratched and had dirt rubbed into her wound, into that child. Even, the Jennerians now admit that infant vaccination spreads disease among children. More mites die from immunization than from the disease they are supposed to be inoculated against.”

                                                                                                                                                                        (G.B. Shaw, 1929)

 

The world has come a long way since George Bernard Shaw fulminated against immunization in the 1920s. Immunization is now regarded as one of the most cost-effective public health interventions for preventing disease and death. Children in all countries are routinely immunized against major diseases, and the practice is now at the very core of global public health efforts.

 

Child taking the oral polio vaccine
Child taking the oral polio vaccine

Nigeria is of huge importance to the immunization world. The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria has a high child mortality rate and a low immunization coverage rate. Particularly disturbing is the fact that of the 6 million Nigerian children born every year, more than 1 million fail to get fully vaccinated by their first birthday.

 

The problems militating against immunization in Africa are extremely diverse. Access to life-saving vaccines in many parts of Africa is not equitable, with large disparities between socio-economic class and rural-urban segments of the population.

Problems of ignorance exist as many parents are unaware of the benefits of vaccines. Worse still are problems of misinformation. For example, the oral polio vaccine has faced considerable resistance from certain parts of Northern Nigeria, where it is erroneously believed to cause a reduction in fertility late in life.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of immunization in Africa is the problem of inadequate, moribund infrastructure. Nigeria typifies this, as she is bedevilled by epileptic power supply. This adversely affects the maintenance of the cold chain for the vaccines, and the inevitable outcome is increased waste, poor supply chain and low immunisation coverage.

Tackling the problem of immunization requires innovative, long-term solutions. Mobile health (mhealth) offers an innovative, low-cost, practical solution that involves the use of mobile devices such as phones and tablets in healthcare delivery and service provision. In the last decade there has been an explosion in the use of mobile technology in Africa. With a population of approximately 160 million, Nigeria has a total of 113.1 million registered mobile phone users. Therefore the infinite potential of mhealth necessitates its integration into current healthcare systems in Africa, particularly with regards to immunization.

Mobile phone tools like SMS, video calls, internet, and apps are now being used to create a vortex for effective dissemination of health information. One such mhealth tool is the GOBIF3, which is a mobile application in the final stages of development that would serve as a vaccine tracker and immunization schedule reminder to monitor vaccines given, educate parents on immunization and routinely remind parents and care-givers of immunization days and appointments. This would thus enable parents and healthcare personnel easily monitor the immunization status of infants and young children in Africa.

 

Smart phones are key in mhealth
Smart phones are key in mhealth

This piece is done in conjunction with Emmanuel Owobu

 

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