Nigeria to avert over 160,000 deaths in children yearly, with introduction of rotavirus vaccine into immunization schedule.

Abuja, 24 July 2018 - Recognizing the magnitude of rotavirus related diarrhea disease, the Federal Government, through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners to introduce the vaccine against rotavirus into the routine immunization schedule before end of 2019.

More than 160,000 deaths are recorded annually due to diarrhea in children under five years occur in Nigeria (Source: World Life Expectancy, 2017). Rotavirus is one of the most deadly diarrhea disease-causing agents, especially in children below five years of age in Nigeria.

“When the vaccine against rotavirus is introduced, Nigeria will avert rotavirus diarrhea attributable hospitalizations and deaths as some children with rotavirus diarrhea lose a lot of fluids and become dehydrated leading to hospitalization and in some cases eventual death”, says Dr Bassey Okposen of NPHCDA. 

According to him, “I believe WHO’s close collaboration with the Federal Government will instigate a drastic reduction in the burden of rotavirus disease related hospitalization and deaths. The vaccine against rotavirus has proven to be highly effective globally on strains of rotavirus causing childhood diarrhea,”.

In addition to rotavirus vaccination, other interventions to effectively combat diarrheal diseases include promotion of breastfeeding, provision of safe water and improved hygiene and sanitation.

Setting up sentinel sites
To further provide information on the burden and epidemiology of rotavirus disease in Nigeria and make informed decisions regarding the introduction of the vaccine against rotavirus, the Federal Government through the NPHCDA in collaboration with WHO have set up four designated health institutions as Rotavirus Sentinel Surveillance sites.

A sentinel surveillance system is set up when high-quality data is needed about a particular disease for decision-making, in the event the data cannot be obtained through a passive system.

WHO has been supporting the government to make the sites (located at the University of Nigeria, Enugu State University, University of Ilorin, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospitals) functional with laboratory equipment, kits and other supplies as well as building the capacities of personnel. 

At the sentinel sites, children less than five years of age admitted with diarrhea regardless of duration or presence of blood in the stool are enrolled in the surveillance sites but   children with hospital-acquired diarrhea are excluded. Each of the sites is expected to collect a minimum of 150 stool samples per year. According to data collected from the sentinel sites, 2,043(47%) of the 4,377 cases enrolled over an 8-year period are positive for Rotavirus with a case fatality rate of 1.3%. The incidence of rotavirus diarrhea is highest in the months of January and February each year. 

Utilizing Polio infrastructure for vaccine introduction
With the data recorded, Dr Richard Banda, Technical Officer at WHO Nigeria stresses that the ongoing rotavirus sentinel surveillance has provided information on the burden and epidemiology of rotavirus disease in Nigeria. According to him, the information will be useful for the introduction of the vaccine against rotavirus and when monitoring to show impact. 

To reaffirm WHO’s commitment, Dr Banda said “We will utilize the existing polio structure to support new vaccine introduction, rotavirus inclusive, and conduct post introduction survey as has been previously done for other new vaccines like Pentavalent vaccines”.

For rotavirus introduction, WHO’s intervention will include logistic support for vaccine delivery to health facilities, data tools development, updating guidelines, capacity building, supportive supervision and participation in coordination activities at national, state and LGA levels. 

There are over 300, 000 Polio vaccination team members paid through WHO’s Direct Disbursement Mechanism to support polio eradication in Nigeria.

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