Rwanda and its partners have committed to embark on ensuring that all children in the country are vaccinated.
This commitment follows findings conducted by Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) and Rinda Ubuzima- a health research organisation which showed that while 96% of the children are vaccinated, 4% of the children are not.
The joint research project-‘Turindane project’ carried out in five districts selected from each of the provinces and Kigali city, showed that most of the remaining 4% children were either disabled and hidden homes, disadvantaged or from marginalised groups.
From birth to age 6 years old, infants and children get the following immunizations: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rotavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), Haemophilus influenzae type b, polio, COVID, flu (influenza), pneumococcal disease, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox (varicella).
The findings also show that religious beliefs and lack of proper information on the importance of vaccines contributed to the main causes of failure to vaccinate.
However, women interviewed also showed that failure to vaccinate children (four times) was because of the distances between their homes and health centers where vaccines can be administered.
Julien Niyigabira, the Division Manager Rwanda Health Communication Centre (RHCC) said that almost 100% respondents said the vaccines were helpful, 88.91% didn’t get an information of vaccine side effects, and a minor number reported side effects-especially on the COVID-19 vaccines.
Niyigabira also showed that 55.6% saw the mothers as responsible for vaccines and 59.3% trust vaccine info from the health providers and a good number of recipients got information through educational material, however youths showed less confidence in routine vaccination.
“We would like to focus on community engagement but especially dissemination of educational material because it has had a great impact on creating awareness on vaccines,” Niyibabira said.
RBC data shows that zero dose cases among children has increased from 7,426 in 2000 to 12,933 in 2005, to 13,631 in 2008 and reaching 104,565 cases to date.
Dr. Hassan Sibomana, the Head of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) said have some issues related to resistance to some vaccines and in some areas and it is very hard to address- especially in Karongi and Rutsiro districts were some families have children have at least one unvaccinated child or have been vaccinated but not fully.
“Some of these cases we found on site were a shock. When we are in Kigali we think that most people are vaccinated but it is not true. So, we need to take action with the support of our partners to address this issue,” Sibomana said.
Julia Dae Battle, the Chief of Health and Nutrition at the United Nations Child Agency (Unicef) Rwanda said that stakeholders have to figure out how to reach communities where there are pockets of zero dose vaccine and defaulters.
The government of Rwanda receives about $10million from development partners to implement its vaccination programs.
Battle stated that as stakeholders talk about demand issues, but supply issues and conflicting priorities like poverty which limit families and distance (which women take up nine hours yet they are recovering from birth pangs) needs to be addressed.
“So far we have 95 health posts equipped with equipment and skills training out of over 1,200 Health Posts in the country. This is a start but more work lies ahead,” Battle said.
Dr. Sibomana said that one of the solutions is the need to involve community leaders and disseminating vaccine activities in Health posts using drones and currently they are piloting the drone delivery method in 95 health posts.