Aberdeen, Freetown, Wednesday 17 April 2019 – (KMN).

The first Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAPs) study on immunization services in Sierra Leone has been validated following a thorough scrutiny by stakeholders in the immunization sector.

The GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization) funded study was conducted by the health NGO, FOCUS 1000, in partnership with UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, WHO and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Officials said the goal is to identify factors limiting uptake of immunization services in the low performing parts of the country and inform policy decisions and particularly the planned national immunization communication strategy.

Mr Paul Sengeh, Director of Research and Evaluation at FOCUS 1000, said at the validation workshop held at the Charm’s Hotel in Aberdeen, Freetown on Wednesday that the study assessed perceptions and attitudes of parents and caregivers of children qualified for vaccine

The KAP study, which involved a household survey and a multi-stage cluster sampling design, was conducted in Kono, Kambia, Moyamba and the Western Area Rural districts, each district representing every one of the four regions (under the previous geographical arrangement of the country). These districts, according to the study authors, have the lowest uptake of immunization services. Out of 720 respondents targeted, 684 responded to the survey questionnaires. Some of the findings were that even though attitude towards vaccines were generally high, factors such as proximity to health facilities, delay in health centers, and fear of side effects of the vaccines were discouraging many caregivers from taking their children for immunization. Educational levels of the parents, as well as trust in both the healthcare provider and the facility influence acceptance of vaccines. There were also concerns around monetary demands from healthcare workers.

Sierra Leone ranks poorly in many global health indices, particularly maternal and infant mortality. The country is ranked as having the highest rates of maternal mortality [1, 195/100, 000], according to figures from the Ministry of Health. It also ranks in the top 10 countries with the highest rate of infant mortality [157/1000]. And many of the diseases fueling infant mortality are vaccine preventable.

According to the EPI, average national vaccination coverage, that’s children who are fully immunized, is 79 percent. Therefore, said Pa Ousman Manneh, Communications for Development Specialist at Unicef, it means that the country needed to try hard to reach the missing 30 percent of unvaccinated children.

Mr Manneh, who is the UNICEF focal person involved with the KAP study, said while Sierra Leone appears to be doing well in national vaccination coverage, it needs to do more to close the gap. “If every child is vaccinated, that will seriously reduce the under-five mortality,” he said.

Dr Tom Sesay, Program Manager, Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), hailed the study, noting that the findings will help in crafting and packaging the government’s responses to health issues of children.

Dr Sesay also revealed that the KAP study was one of a series of studies currently being undertaking relating to immunization in the country, among them the Equity Assessment Study which seeks to identify reasons why children are not immunized, where the unimmunized children are and how to reach them. There is also the Urban Slum study which looks at coverage of immunization in the urban areas. It follows concern over low uptake of immunization services in the urban centers. “I am very interested in the Western Area because immunization coverage in the urban areas is slow and that’s not what is expected,” said Sesay.

Following Wednesday’s validation, FOCUS 1000 and its partners are expected to finalize the report for subsequent public dissemination. Mohammed Bailor Jalloh, CEO of FOCUS 1000, said despite the revelations of low vaccines uptake, the study also showed that a lot was currently being done to change the situation. He said the next move is to ensure the results are used to draw the strategy and make a difference.

By Kemoh Cham

Kombra Media Network