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Religious affiliation and immunization coverage in 15 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa
Authors: Janaína Calu Costa, Ann M. Weber, Gary L. Darmstadt, Safa Abdalla, and Cesar G. Victora
Source: Vaccine, 38(5): 1160-1169; DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2019.11.024
Topic(s): Immunization
Country: Africa
  Multiple African Countries
Published: JAN 2020
Abstract: Background Although religious affiliation has been identified as a potential barrier to immunization in some African countries, there are no systematic multi-country analyses, including within-country variability, on this issue. We investigated whether immunization varied according to religious affiliation and sex of the child in sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. Methods We used data from 15 nationally representative surveys from 2010 to 2016. The major religious groups were described by country in terms of wealth, residence, and education. Proportions of fully immunized and unvaccinated children were stratified by country, maternal religion, and sex of the child. Poisson regression with robust variance was used to assess whether the outcomes varied according to religion, with and without adjustment for the above cited sociodemographic confounders. Interactions between child sex and religion were investigated. Results Fifteen countries had >10% of families affiliated with Christianity and >10% affiliated with Islam, and four also had >10% practicing folk religions. In general, Christians were wealthier, more educated and more urban. Nine countries had significantly lower full immunization coverage among Muslims than Christians (pooled prevalence ratio = 0.81; 95%CI: 0.79–0.83), of which seven remained significant after adjustment for confounders (pooled ratio = 0.90; 0.87–0.92). Four countries had higher coverage among Muslims, of which two remained significant after adjustment. Regarding unvaccinated children, six countries showed higher proportions among Muslims, all of which remained significant after adjustment [crude pooled ratio = 1.83 (1.59–2.07); adjusted = 1.31 (1.14–1.48)]. Children from families practicing folk religions did not show any consistent patterns in immunization. Child sex was not consistently associated with vaccination. Conclusion Muslim religion was associated with lower vaccine coverage in several SSA countries, both for boys and girls. The involvement of religious leaders is essential for increasing immunization coverage and supporting the leave no one behind agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals.