9th August, 2011
As mothers throughout the world celebrate the 2011 World Breastfeeding Week, one disturbing news out of some hospitals in Lagos is that of the shortage of BCG vaccine for babies. The implication of this is that children in such places risk being infected with tuberculosis.
Investigations carried out in some hospitals in the state revealed that mothers go through harrowing experiences to have their children immunised against tuberculosis. These experiences ranged from being forced to wait for endless hours by health officials charged with the administration of the vaccine to being forced to pay for what is supposed to be given free to them.
In some cases, after waiting for endless hours, mothers are told to come back at a rescheduled date because of the shortage of the vaccine.
BCG or Bacillus Calmette-Guerin as it is known, is a preparation used to immunise individuals against tuberculosis. It consists of attenuated live human tubercle bacilli (mycobacterium tuberculosis), the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. According to the United Nations, 75 percent of newborn babies worldwide receive BCG. It is the first vaccine given to newly born infants to prevent them from contracting tuberculosis.
It is therefore disheartening to learn that only four bottles of the vaccine were available for more than 60 children brought to the maternity centre located inside the Agege Local Government secretariat, Lagos, the City of Excellence. Despite the non availability of the vaccine, mothers were also mandated to pay N10 to obtain registration cards. Some of the mothers complained that they have been bringing their children to the hospital for the past three months without luck.
The situation was not different at the Ifako-Ijaiye General Hospital where reports claimed that about 100 children were on queue for immunisation. Mothers of newly born babies who came to have their children vaccinated against tuberculosis were directed to come back because of the scarcity of the vaccine. Nurses at the hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity also confirmed the shortage of the vaccine in the hospital, saying that they have exhausted their last supply.
Information at our disposal also revealed that it is the Federal Government that imports the drug and then distributes to the states which in turn distribute it to the local government areas.
It is of utmost necessity that the various levels of government wake up from their slumber and do something quickly about the shortage of BCG. We want to implore the Lagos State government to do a quick assessment of the situation in its hospitals regarding the availability of BCG vaccine.
Without sounding alarmist, the lives of thousands of children are at risk here and the earlier the government provided the vaccine, the better for the populace.
It is estimated that two million people die from tuberculosis every year. The World Health Organisation, WHO, estimates that TB is growing at nearly 0.4 percent yearly, resulting in more than 8.5 million infections per year.
We are calling on the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, to move fast and ensure that BCG vaccine is provided at the hospitals and maternity centres identified and also hospitals where the vaccine is in short supply to prevent an outbreak of tuberculosis.