Monday, October 31, 2016

Combating Polio in Nigeria Again


With the re-emergence of cases of
poliomyelitis, the fatally crippling
disease in Nigeria, operators of the health sector have been wondering what went wrong. This is because the fresh cases emerged after the country had been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as polio free.
Prior to that certification, Nigeria was one of only three countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan that were categorised as polio endemic. So, it became a tough challenge for the country to fight itself out of that negative circle.
To combat the scourge, more than 200,000 volunteers across the country repeatedly immunized more than 45 million children under the age of five years to ensure that no child suffered from the paralyzing disease. That was in 2012, when Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide.

Two years later in 2014, the country made significant strides eventually marking two years without a case of polio. That feat was indeed a result of concerted efforts by all levels of government, especially a strong political will by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, contributions by Civil Society Organisations, religious leaders and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers.
With that breakthrough, WHO announced September 25, 2015 that polio was no longer endemic in Nigeria, the first time the country had successfully interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus, a pronouncement which indeed brought the country and the African region closer than ever to be polio free.

Being a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease without a cure, the only solution is safe and effective vaccines. Scientists are agreed that polio can only be prevented through immunization of the polio vaccine, which if given multiple times, almost always protects a child for life, according to facts from the WHO facts file of polio.
This means every nation ought to take the immunization against polio seriously as a means of checking the spread. It should be a national effort that brings together all stakeholders, parents, health workers, governments, volunteers and even civil society organisations.
This is why this year’s World Polio Day, marked October 24 ought to be seen as the beginning of yet another war against polio, the type that resulted in WHO declaration of the country as polio free.
Happily, Rotary International which has always pioneered the global effort against polio, through development and subsequent widespread use of the Poliovirus vaccine and the Oral Poliovirus, was back on the roads, this year to drum better public awareness. It was indeed an effort that succeeded in attracting both public and government support.
The Federal Government, in acceptance of the fresh challenge which polio’s re-emergence means, has also promised to immunize 41 million children by the end of this year. That is indeed commendable, as it would, without a doubt, check the circle and lead to the country being polio free.


The Tide also recalls the reaction of the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency in Nigeria, Dr. Ado Muhammad shortly after the WHO certification: “We Nigerians are proud today. With local innovation and national persistence, we have beaten polio.”
But he also added the imperative: “We know our vigilance and efforts must continue in order to keep Nigeria Polio free.” It is perhaps that vigilance that was compromised.

Now therefore, is the right time to remind ourselves of the position of the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso, ‘stopping polio in Nigeria has been a clear example that political engagement, strong partnerships, community engagement are the engines that drive the momentum of Public Health Programme, enabling them to achieve great things.
This indeed is the path to follow, once more as the country did in 2012. Nothing less.

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