With Joke Adeniyi-Jackson
These are not the best of times to live in Nigeria and be a Nigerian. The excruciating economic situation has rendered many financially impotent and the level of insecurity is at its all time high. Life and living has become unbearable particularly for the ordinary Nigerian. And like a country plagued, the outbreak of the Monkey pox virus, zoonotic disease has added to our many pains. The monkeypox virus has spread to 11 states with 74 suspected cases recorded, according to the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, yesterday. Consequently, Nigerians have been gripped by panic owing to its mode of transmission. The situation has been made worse by vaccine scare in parts of the country. There have news of pandemonium in many private and public schools in states in recent time following rumours that government had deployed army personnel and Non Governmental Organisation (NGOs) to inject students with monkey pox virus. Rumours had it that some people in army uniform were injecting students with poison under the guise of vaccination for Monkey Pox pandemic. The rumour was apparently aggravated by the ‘Operation Python Dance’ military exercise in the South-east of the country. In the wake of the development, Anambra State government had to ban all medical outreaches in the state. The rumour is yet to be quelled despite denial by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) of existence of harmful vaccination in the country.
And in one of its statements issued on backdown of the rumour it assured “all parents, guardians and care-givers of globally confirmed safety, potency and effectiveness of all antigens in the National Immunisation Schedule against vaccines preventable diseases in the country and the vaccination is free in all public health institutions.”
The military too had made it clear that the free medical outreach embarked upon was not a vaccine intended to infect monkey pox or any major contemporary or emerging diseases in Nigeria to the people of South-east or any part of the country.
It said the exercise was part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued into the overall Python Dance 11 package to the people of the South-east region.
The story was not any different in Kwara State yesterday as panic enveloped communities. There was tension in Omu-Aran and Oro both in Irepodun Local Government Area of the state fueled by rumour of the poisonous vaccination. The rumour, which gained momentum within the twinkling of an eye and spread like wildfire, made parents rush to schools to take home their children and wards thereby leading to early closure of schools. Some private school owners shut down their schools in the affected areas, to safeguard pupils from any unforeseen health risk and misfortune.
It is an unfortunate development because vaccination safety scares have the potential to undermine public confidence in vaccines and lower immunisation rates, resulting in disease outbreaks and deaths. It is disheartening that it is coming at a time when the Kwara State government has just embarked on a 10-day immunisation against Yellow fever for residents.
The state Commissioner for Health, Alhaji Sulaiman Alege had on Sunday disclosed that no fewer than 200,000 people had been vaccinated within three days.
He said that 960,000 vaccines had been deployed to nine communities in the state as at last week. However, the awareness campaign on the exercise was not far reaching and this could also be attributed to the vaccine scare in the state.
This sad development can be blamed on the state government and concerned authorities. The panic ostensibly emanated from poor awareness creation.
Although, the Special Adviser on Security, Alhaji Amusa Bello has issued a statement to allay fear of parents and residents of the affected areas over the issue, it has not done much to douse the tension. The action could be likened to putting the cart before the horse. It is instructive that this ugly development could prevent residents from making themselves available for the Yellow Fever vaccines.
In the light of this, there is a need for public health authorities to be proactive during an adverse events incident. These include getting the public well informed on government health programmes. Information should be tailored to suit different audiences; traditional media sources could be used for effective awareness creation. Immunisation providers, such as nurses, should avail people with up-to-date information. In essence, adequate information is required to rebuild trust of the public in vaccines provided by government. The proliferation of information on social media has not helped the situation as people access information from different sources. Information is power, which people should not be denied.