Polio-free Nigeria: Not yet uhuru
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”.