Developing New Skills to Improve Immunization in Nigeria

Using lessons learned in Sabin’s Boost Community, Musa Joshua Aboi grows his ability to impact immunization.

As a technical immunization officer with a non-governmental organization in Kaduna State, Nigeria, Musa Joshua Aboi has his hands full. He supervises 10-15 teams of at least three people involved in many aspects of immunization: routine vaccines, demand creation and supplementary immunization for outbreaks of such diseases as measles, polio or cholera. The district where he works is densely populated, he notes, and the immunization tracking is complex – sometimes in clinics to monitor data capture and cold chain, sometimes door-to–door, sometimes targeted campaigns checking if people on the street are up to date with their vaccine schedule.

“There’s a lot of competing priorities,” he acknowledges.

So when Musa was looking for professional development to grow his management skills, a colleague recommended the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Boost Community, the online networking and training program where immunization professionals are empowered to grow and lead in their careers and accelerate change in their communities.

“I had other learning networks that I participated in, but I realized I benefited more from Boost than from most of the other networks,” he says. “I took a ‘Storytelling For Change’ class, and it grew from there.”

In 2022, Musa became a fellow in the Boost Flagship Fellowship, taking courses in Community Activation and Adaptive Leadership, then moving on to a train-the-trainers program so he could begin facilitating courses for other immunization professionals. “When I learned how the Boost Community could help my capacity, I had to rearrange my priorities and put the learning process at the top,” he says.

The courses, he says, have helped him not only as a supervisor, but also with his work problem solving to facilitate routine immunization activities. “There was a case that was not supposed to come to me, a nomadic settlement that refused to accept immunization,” he says. “[Before the Boost training], I had taken courses about dealing with people, which of course gives you insight on how to talk with people and amicably solve a problem. [This time, however,] I had learned about relationship building, and how to work on what I can give [them] in return.”

That, in fact, turned out to be critical to building trust with the group. A recent program to distribute long-term mosquito nets had bypassed the nomadic group. As a result, they felt that if they were neglected for important things, such as protection from malaria, why would a team show up to vaccinate their children?

“Having the right skills such as storytelling or strategizing and using them appropriately can increase uptake of the HPV vaccine.”

Musa Joshua Aboi

Technical Immunization Officer

Musa was able to put his new Community Activation skills directly into action by reaching out to the community leader. Through his conversation with the leader, Musa was able to start building trust, noting that he respected the request for mosquito nets. With a call to the Local Government Area health department office, he was able to secure some nets for the community, which were promptly delivered. He communicated the importance of the vaccines, and, with trust reinforced by delivering the mosquito nets, the group agreed to let the vaccination team return. As a result, all 60 eligible children in the settlement received their vaccinations. “They didn’t have a problem with the vaccine, they just didn’t think it was as important as the netting,” he says.

Musa credits the Boost Community with helping him become more expressive. “As I go deeper, I learn more,” he says.

He recently began co-facilitating an advanced training on Community Activation for the Boost Community. The section of the training that he leads focuses on the uptake of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, which Nigeria  announced it will begin administering in a campaign this fall. “Advanced Community Activation Training is a blueprint for solving vaccine-related challenges, and HPV faces many of the same challenges as most other vaccines,” he notes. “Having the right skills such as storytelling or strategizing and using them appropriately can increase uptake of the HPV vaccine.”

Musa says he’s grateful for all the professional support from Boost, “I participate in networking and other events more than before. I’ve learned so much. The [Community] has done a lot and is still doing a lot for me.”