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Alma Sana, 3 others win US$1m global Healthcare Innovation Award

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Nigerian-based project group, Alma Sana, has joined three other organisations to win one million US dollar global Healthcare Innovation Award.

The award came courtesy GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children. It is the first time that an innovation in Nigeria has been recognised. Alma Sana is the only winner in Africa this year, it was announced at a briefing in Abuja on Thursday.

The innovation uses simple bracelets to empower mothers by presenting them with a constant reminder of their baby’s vaccination schedules through symbols embedded in the bracelet, turning their babies’ ‘jewellery’ into a vaccine calendar and check-list.

The bracelets, designed by mothers and nurses, are low, waterproof, durable, baby safe, and intended for parents living on US$1.25 or less a day. As the bracelet’s immunisation reminders are represented through symbols and not words, they are suitable for both literate and non-literate so that parents can more easily understand their children’s vaccination records and return on time for vaccinations.

Addressing journalists at the briefing, President, Alma Sana, Lauren Braun, said the organisation was thrilled and honoured to have received the award. “Given how much excitement and commitment there is around this project in Nigeria, it’s exciting to be able to bring these bracelets to parents so their children can be vaccinated on time. These bracelets could quite literally save these children’s lives; so we are humble to have such an incredible opportunity to help make that impact.”

Nigeria implementing partner of Alma Sana, Dr Shola Dele-Olowu, said of the initiative: “The Healthcare Innovation Award was specifically designed with the understanding that those closest to a complex problem are best placed to design solutions to solve them. The successful implementation of this project will go a long way to support the Nigerian Government to achieve its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in line with this administration’s recently launched Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) We look forward to the commencement of the programme.”

Deputy Country Director, Save the Children, Babatunde Ojei, said immunisation remained one of the world’s most powerful tools for reducing under-five mortality and morbidity. Alma Sana, he stated, selected Nigeria for its next programme because of its poor vaccination rates and large population. “We welcome Alma Sana’s fantastic innovation, which can, and should, be replicated across Nigeria to support the hardest-to-reach mothers and children to access immunisation.

In her address, Vaccine Champion and Wife of Senate President, Mrs Toyin Saraki, urged mothers in the country to ensure their children within the age of immunisation are allowed to be immunised.

Immunisation practice, she said, has come a long way over the years. She explained that in 2015, a record 86 percent of infants worldwide received three doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, protecting them against the potentially fatal diseases.

She said recorded cases of polio have declined by 99 percent since 1988, and that the World Health Organization estimates that globally, immunisation currently prevents two to three million deaths per year.

Mrs Saraki emphasised that one of most successful vaccination campaigns worldwide had been against polio, which she said had declined by 99 percent in just 30 years. She said vaccines have helped reduce ailments such as cervical cancer, meningitis and polio drastically in the past decade.

The founder of Wellbeing Foundation Africa explained that 1.5 million children die unnecessarily each year from vaccine-preventable illness, adding that in Sub-Saharan Africa which suffers the lowest rate of immunisation worldwide, only 42 percent of people are vaccinated against measles.

“In Nigeria, the country of my birth, just 10 percent of children receive the required three doses of the dangerous haemophilus influenza type b vaccine. In Nigeria, the immunisation rates for three doses of the DTP vaccine, three doses of the Hib vaccine, and the measles vaccine are at 66 percent, 66 percent and 51 percent, respectively. This is appalling for a country of over 31 million children under the age of 5 years, combined with a birth rate of at least seven million per year.”

She spoke against the misconception about vaccinations which some people argue that they are dangerous and ineffective, “with some pseudo-science even hypothesising the link between vaccinations and autism. We must inform citizens and local communities that vaccinations and immunization will not lead to autism and their children are safer and healthier by being vaccinated.”

She also called on policy makers to make and reflect a greater social obligation to vaccinate promptly, easily, and properly, and enforce this amongst all people. She said governments must collaborate with NGOs, advocacy bodies, philanthropy funds, and community leaders to devise the appropriate frameworks for their people that will create sustainable vaccination trends; and that there needs to be better disease surveillance nationally and regionally and an improved disease monitoring system to catch potential outbreaks early.

Information made available at the event stated the bracelets demonstrated success in a previous study done in Latin America with 91 percent of low-income mothers stating that seeing the bracelet on their child’s wrists during the child’s first year of life helped remind parents of the vaccination dates. 90 percent of parents, the statement furthered, would continue using them in the future, while 87 percent said they would recommend the bracelets to other parents to use.

“This follow-up project in Nigeria, which will receive a majority of the funds, aims to understand whether children who wear the bracelets receive all required vaccines on-time compared to children who do not wear the bracelets. If successful, the project will look to scale up within Nigeria over the next few years to help vaccinate all children on time and save more lives.

“The award is a major initiative of GSK and Save the Children’s five-year partnership, combining the resources, voice and expertise of the two organisations to help save one million children’s lives. The purpose of the award is to identify innovations that are making a tangible difference to children’s health, and enable organisations to share and replicate their approach.”

Alma Sana Nigeria is a consortium of partners dedicated to helping save children’s lives through timely immunisation.

In May 2013, GSK and Save the Children formed a partnership to help save the lives of one million children. Since then, the organisations have been working together closely on initiatives that include developing child-friendly medicines, increasing access to medicines and vaccines and training health workers.

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