Po­lio-free Nige­ria: Not yet uhuru

Daily Trust - - HEALTH - From Ab­dul­la­teef Aliyu, Lagos

Though, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) re­cently re­moved Nige­ria from the list of po­lio-en­demic coun­tries, more work needs to be done to sus­tain the tempo and at­tain cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in 2017, Daily Trust re­ports.

On Septem­ber 25, 2015, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) is­sued a press re­lease which was a cheery news for Nige­ria and a stamp on many years of con­sis­tent bat­tle to elim­i­nate the deadly wild po­lio virus (WPV) from the coun­try.

The WHO state­ment which an­nounced that po­lio is no longer en­demic in Nige­ria said, “This is the first time that Nige­ria has in­ter­rupted trans­mis­sion of wild po­liovirus, bring­ing the coun­try and the African re­gion closer than ever to be­ing cer­ti­fied po­lio-free.”

Speak­ing on this achieve­ment, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, Na­tional Pri­mary Health Care De­vel­op­ment Agency, Dr Ado Muham­mad, said, “We Nige­ri­ans are proud to­day. With lo­cal in­no­va­tion and na­tional per­sis­tence, we have beaten po­lio. We know our vig­i­lance and ef­forts must con­tinue in or­der to keep Nige­ria po­lio-free.” With the re­moval of Nige­ria from the po­lio en­demic coun­tries’ list, only Pak­istan and Afghanistan re­main in the list ac­cord­ing to the WHO. The feat is hailed across the coun­try as a ma­jor one for that mat­ter given the high preva­lence of the deadly virus, which can cause to­tal life paral­y­sis to any child af­fected, some years ago.

Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics from the Nige­ria Na­tional Po­lioplus Com­mit­tee (NNPPC), the coun­try had 1122 po­lio cases in 2006, ris­ing ex­tremely from 830 in 2005; 792 in 2004; 355 in 2003; 202 in 2002; 58 in 2001 and 29 in 2000.

Giv­ing an insight into the 2000-2015 plan which had re­sulted in the cur­rent zero rate dur­ing an in­ter­ac­tive ses­sion with news­men at the Ro­tary House in Lagos, Dr. Ab­dul­rah­man Tunji Fun­sho, the chair­man of the po­lio com­mit­tee, ex­plained that while Nige­ria had beefed up its ac­tiv­i­ties di­rected to­wards erad­i­cat­ing the deadly dis­ease, the mis­con­cep­tions in the north which stalled im­mu­niza­tion ac­tiv­i­ties was re­spon­si­ble for the in­crease in cases recorded in 2006. He re­called that three states in the north re­jected the oral po­lio vac­cine (OPV) on the er­ro­neous im­pres­sion that it was de­signed by the western world to re­duce the pop­u­la­tion of north­ern Mus­lims.

How­ever, the in­volve­ment of prom­i­nent north­ern Mus­lim schol­ars and lead­ers helped to cor­rect the mis­con­cep­tion and im­mu­niza­tion re­sumed in those states that same year (2006).

Speak­ing on how Nige­ria at­tained the present sta­tus, the chair­man ex­plained that this was made pos­si­ble by the strong po­lit­i­cal sup­port by the gov­ern­ment, es­tab­lish­ment of of emer­gency op­er­a­tions cen­tres, strength­en­ing ac­count­abil­ity at all lev­els and the use of in­no­va­tive strate­gies.

He high­lighted the chal­lenges en­coun­tered in the pro­gramme to in­clude com­pla­cency, in­se­cu­rity, pock­ets of non-com­pli­ance/ block re­jec­tion, in­ad­e­quate tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity to ad­min­is­ter IPV, weak rou­tine im­mu­niza­tion in­fras­truc­ture and donor fa­tigue.

He said gov­ern­ment should put more money to con­tinue to reach chil­dren es­pe­cially in the states bat­tling in­sur­gency to sus­tain the tempo un­til 2017 when the coun­try would be cer­ti­fied po­lio free by the WHO.

Fun­sho who lamented that in­se­cu­rity was a ma­jor chal­lenge in the bat­tle against po­lio how­ever ex­pressed re­lief that the com­mit­tee had been able to reach many chil­dren at the In­ter­nally Dis­placed Peo­ple’s Camps.

Other plans by the po­lio com­mit­tee was the com­plete switch to in­ac­ti­vated po­lio virus (IPV) to sup­ple­ment the oral po­lio vac­cine (OPV), dis­clos­ing that the IPV was in­tro­duced in April this year in Bornu. Other mea­sure to be taken to sus­tain the present sta­tus ahead of the 2017 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is the close mon­i­tor­ing of the in­ter­na­tional bor­ders. “When you be­come po­lio-free, you must be very con­scious of ad­mit­ting any­one- adults or chil­dren from any coun­try that is still po­lio-en­demic”, he said.

He com­mended the roles of part­ners that have brought about the feat be­ing cel­e­brated. The part­ners in­cluded Ro­tary In­ter­na­tional, UNICEF, Dan­gote Foundation, Bills and Melinda Gates foundation as well as gov­ern­ments of the world. Specif­i­cally, he stressed that Ro­tar­i­ans are the in­stru­ments of change that has been recorded in the drive to erad­i­cate po­lio in the coun­try.

Also speak­ing, the Dis­trict Gover­nor of Dis­trict 9110 Ro­tary Nige­ria, Otunba Bola On­abadejo warned against com­pla­cency, stress­ing that Nige­ria has two more years of hard work to achieve po­liofree cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Vice-Chair­man, South-west NNPPC, Mr. Yomi Adewunmi said, “The mes­sage we are try­ing to pass across is that we are not yet free. We still have two more years to go for us to be cer­ti­fied po­lio-free. So there should be no com­pla­cency”.

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