Immunization

Supporting Access to Immunization through Supplementary Immunization Activities

By Abubakar Shehu and Emerald Awa- Agwu

Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIAs) are one of the four strategies put forward by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988. In Nigeria, SIAs include Immunization Plus Days (IPDs), Outbreak Responses (OBRs) and other immunization outreaches conducted by the Nigerian government and its polio eradication partners. The aim of SIAs is to interrupt the transmission of the poliovirus by immunizing all children under five years of age with two doses of oral polio vaccine irrespective of their previous immunization status—unimmunized, partially covered or fully immunized.

A child receiving the Oral Polio Vaccine

A child receiving the Oral Polio Vaccine

SIAs are intended to complement Routine Immunization. However, in some areas, they represent the major strategy for catching unimmunized children and ensuring that they are vaccinated against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Access to routine immunization services may be hindered for a variety of reasons including:

  • Challenges with cold chain equipment leading to vaccine damage and loss of potency, and eventually, unavailability of vaccines. Caregivers are often reluctant to return to health facilities where vaccines were unavailable. This results in missed opportunities to commence or complete the vaccination course.

  • Security challenges that make health facilities hard to reach by caregivers who bring children for immunization.

  • Access-related challenges such as caregivers having to travel long distances to the health facility or being unable to afford the cost of transportation

  • Wrong myths or perceptions about vaccinations such as loss of fertility as a result of vaccination.

SIAs take immunization services directly to children at their doorsteps, thereby bridging any gaps that may result from an inability to access vaccines at the health facilities. By achieving a vaccination coverage of at least 80% (that is, by vaccinating at least 80% of the targeted children with a potent vaccine), herd immunity can be achieved and the poliovirus can be deprived of the susceptible hosts which it needs to survive.

Through Supplementary Immunization Activities, children who were missed by routine immunization services can be reached with life-saving vaccines

Through Supplementary Immunization Activities, children who were missed by routine immunization services can be reached with life-saving vaccines

Prior to 2012, Nigeria had been conducting SIAs but was still recording cases of wild poliovirus (WPV). After a holistic examination of the immunization program, it was discovered that there was a huge disparity between the actual versus reported immunization coverage. Reports from independent monitoring and supervision groups showed that the actual vaccination coverage of the SIAs was much lower than the reported coverage. There were many missed settlements and an even larger number of missed children. It was discovered that some vaccination teams never visited the communities, instead, they would discard the vaccines and record false information in the tally sheets to account for the empty vials. Not only was this frustrating the polio eradication efforts, but it was also causing the health system huge losses as a result of the wasted vaccines.

It became imperative to develop a methodology to improve vaccination coverage and ensure that the vaccination teams visited all the target settlements during SIAs. This led to the development and deployment of the Vaccination Tracking System (VTS) in 2012.

VTS provides healthcare administrators and partners in the polio eradication space with daily insight into the activities of vaccination teams during SIAs by collecting passive tracks of the vaccination teams using Geographic Information Systems (GIS technology-enabled android phones and uploading them onto a dashboard for visualization. This provides stakeholders with near-live data about the geo-coverage of the vaccination campaign. The system also identifies missed settlements on a daily basis so that immediate action can be taken and the settlements can be included in the ongoing campaign. Another benefit of the VTS is that it increases the accountability of vaccination teams because the vaccinators know that they are under constant supervision. This greatly reduces the risk of data falsification.

The VTS dashboard provides decision-makers with near-real-time data about the progress of immunization campaigns and outreaches

The VTS dashboard provides decision-makers with near-real-time data about the progress of immunization campaigns and outreaches

So far, VTS has been used to track 82 supplementary immunization activities in 30 states of Nigeria. A significant proportion of these states have seen an exponential increase in the vaccination geo-coverage rates from the first campaign tracked to the last tracked campaign.

Increase in vaccination coverage rates

Increase in vaccination coverage rates

VTS makes sure that eligible children who, for any reason, are unable to receive their vaccinations through the routine immunization sessions at the health facilities, have a second chance to be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases like Polio and Meningitis.

Benefits of a Direct Delivery Model

By Adamu Lawan and Emerald Awa- Agwu

eHealth Africa's third- party logistics service, VDD ensures that vaccines are delivered to last mile health facilities in a timely manner

eHealth Africa's third- party logistics service, VDD ensures that vaccines are delivered to last mile health facilities in a timely manner

Vaccination is one of public health’s most cost-effective interventions. According to the World Health Organization1, it prevents between 2 million to 3 million deaths every year. Even though there has been great progress towards achieving universal coverage, there are still 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children worldwide. To reach these children and to meet global disease elimination targets, all countries must provide an uninterrupted supply of potent vaccines to the most hard-to-reach and conflict-affected areas.

Nigeria has experienced challenges in maintaining functional vaccine cold chains and supply chains, leading to low vaccination coverage rates. Nigeria’s cold chain system consists of five levels: a national cold store which stores all vaccines in the country and supplies six zonal cold stores located in each of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones. The zonal stores supply vaccines to the state cold stores, which in turn supply the LGA cold stores. The primary health care facilities staff have to visit the LGA cold stores to collect their vaccines on a weekly or daily basis depending on the status of their cold chain equipment.

Direct delivery model 2.png

This system was inefficient and time- consuming because health workers from over 9,000 health facilities in Nigeria often had to leave work to collect vaccines when they could be treating patients instead. In addition, the system was fraught with high operational costs and poor vaccine stock visibility, especially in transit.

To alleviate this problem, the Nigerian government adopted a direct delivery model called Push Plus in 2013, to transform its supply chain at the state level. A direct delivery model is one which delivers vaccines and dry goods directly from the state cold store to the last mile health facilities according to customized schedules, bypassing the LGA warehouses completely and preventing stock-outs.

The benefits of this model have been enormous. The direct delivery model has freed up an additional 1- 6 hours each week for health workers to attend to patients—time previously spent by health workers in transit to obtain vaccines. In addition, vaccine availability at the last mile health facilities has improved. By increasing the number of health facilities that have functional cold chain equipment, health posts and smaller health facilities can receive vaccines from closer health facilities instead of going to the LGA cold store every day. This has led to a massive drop in the stock-out rate. In Kano state, vaccine stock-out rates dropped from 93% to 3% and in Lagos State, from 43% to none. Not surprisingly, the immunization coverage of Lagos State increased from 57% to 88%. WHO2 lists vaccine shortages and stock-outs as a major cause of missed opportunities to vaccinate.

Nigeria is projected to spend about US$ 450 million by 2020 on vaccines, By increasing vaccine accountability and visibility, the direct delivery model has also reduced the amount of money that could be lost due to wastage and pilfering of vaccines.

eHealth Africa implemented Vaccine Direct Delivery, a third-party logistics service based on the direct delivery model in Kano State from 2014 to 2016 and currently implements it in Bauchi and Sokoto states. We work with the state primary healthcare development agencies to ensure that vaccines and dry goods are delivered safely and in a timely manner to health facilities. Using our LoMIS Deliver solution, eHA plans, schedules, and routes deliveries to enable health delivery officers choose the correct quantity of vaccines and dry goods from the state cold stores and deliver them to health facilities equipped with cold chain equipment. The process of determining what quantities to deliver at the health facility is fully automated to avoid manual errors. The project also incorporates reverse logistics—returning balance stock or waste, if any to the state cold store. VDD provides governments and other stakeholders with accurate, near real-time data for decision making and forecasting.

Through VDD, over 28 million doses of vaccines have been delivered to health facilities in Kano, Bauchi and Sokoto State from 2014 to date, reaching over 13 million children under the age of one. eHealth Africa continues to support governments across Africa with system-level approaches to transforming health service delivery.