Reflections on the First in a Series of Trainings on Immunization Advocacy for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) by the Women Advocates for Vaccine Access (WAVA)

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I love beginnings: be it the birth of a baby, the first bloom of spring, the first bite of food on an empty stomach or the launch of a long-incubated initiative. Beginnings come with promise, hope, opportunity and wonder. As the Founder and Convener of the Women Advocates for Vaccine Access (WAVA), I was dizzy with delight last week Thursday, when I declared open, a two-day training on Immunization Advocacy for 25 advocates from 11 member civil society organizations (CSOs). The training, which was held from 4th to 5th August 2016, in Rockview Classic Hotel Abuja, is the first in the series WAVA plans to roll out in 2016. It was organized as part of a Gates Foundation-funded project being implemented by the Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), in partnership with Direct Consulting Limited (DCL).

Through these trainings, WAVA aims to expose a diverse set of advocates–from technology gurus to governance experts–to the looming challenges around immunization financing. Let me pause here briefly to explain why you should care about this.

Since 2001, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, a Geneva-based organization, has been providing financial support to Nigeria towards routine immunization. Because of what is termed “transition”, this support will start to scale down over a five-year period starting from 2017. By 2022, Nigeria will assume full responsibility for funding vaccines procurement and immunization service delivery. According to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), from 2022, it will cost the Nigerian government an average of 362 million dollars every year to procure her vaccines. This is a four-fold increase from the 2016 counterpart payment of $85 million. There is therefore a need for strong advocacy to policy makers and stakeholders to sustain vaccine funding to ensure uninterrupted access to immunization. Given the herculean task of bridging the funding gap, more champions are needed to speak up at the national and state levels. WAVA aims to cultivate champions and build a critical mass of new voices for vaccines.

Now back to the workshop: for many attendees, the training was their first time hearing about the issues around immunization in detail. They learned key facts about the health and economic value of vaccines; for example that investments in vaccination programs yield between 16 to 44 times in economic returns for countries. They also learned about the strategies for advocacy – how to map their stakeholders, craft messages, engage the media and leverage social media for wider reach. The training was very interactive; participants made new friends, shared ideas and worked together to develop concrete plans to mainstream immunization advocacy into their existing programs. At the end, a strong consensus emerged that:

  • Advocating for immunization is advocating for life. If nearly one third of the under 5 deaths are caused by diseases for which there are vaccines, Nigeria stands to lose a lot if we fail to vaccinate our children and mothers
  • Advocating for an increase in the national budget for immunization is the best strategy to improve funding for immunization
  • Front-loading in the 2017 budget, the vaccine cost for 2017 and 2018 is a smart way to assure funding and prevent vaccine stock out, and it gives stakeholders time to plan and implement sustainable long-term financing solutions

Amongst the many “asks”, the top priority message that advocates agreed to push, is for the federal government to budget $181 million (N53 billion) in 2017 to cover vaccine purchase for the next two years, i.e. till December 2018.

It was heart-warming to get the glowing feedback from participants. Ninety-five per cent said they were very satisfied with the training. The pre-post assessment showed impressive knowledge gains as the average score on key immunization facts doubled from 43% at the beginning to 88% at the end of the two-day program. One of the participants, Mr. Ajah Chima Oliver, Executive Director, DIG Foundation, Ebonyi State summed up his experience nicely in a thank-you note, stating that:

“This is really a new dimension of intervention to many CSOs in Nigeria and I am glad to be part of the beginning. I hereby promise that our organisation, Development & Integrity Intervention Goal Foundation (DIG), Ebonyi State, will do her best to ensure the objectives of this training is achieved.”

With the success of this workshop, we hope to see immunization advocacy activities increase among WAVA members. On our part, we hope to get better with each wave of training and continue to build a coalition of committed, passionate and active advocates. With our upcoming small grants program, we expect to empower winning WAVA members bring to life their most innovative advocacy ideas. We rely on partnerships to make this work. To that end, I’ve saved the best for last, which is to thank our wonderful partners who facilitated sessions at the workshop. Big thanks to Eugene Ivase (Head of Communications, NPHCDA), Ayo Ipinmoye (National Coordinator, ACOMIN), Edwin Daniel-Ikhuoria (Country Representative, ONE Campaign), Chioma Agwuegbo (Founder, TechHer) and kudos to the tireless DCL team that made it happen: Laz Eze, Shola Molemodile, Tina Obande, IJ Micheals, Bridget Odera and the rest of the crew. Watch this space to see WAVA members in action.

Dr. Chizoba Wonodi

Founder and Convener WAVA

Nigeria Country Programs Lead, Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Centre

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