The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced last week that polio was no longer endemic in Nigeria. The Team Leader of the African Regional Satisfaction Committee, Mr. Anad Dumba, stated in Ilorin, as he conducted jubilant delegates around the Kwara State Ministry of Health, that with Nigeria being polio-free, the devastating disease is now endemic in only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which brings the world one step closer to achieving the goal of ending polio for good.
Speaking in the same vein, Dr. Margaret Cham, representing the Director-General of the WHO, said the outstanding commitment and efforts that got Nigeria off the endemic list must continue to keep Africa polio-free. We must now support the efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan so they soon join the polio-free world.
Since 1988, the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99 per cent, according to WHO. At that time, more than 350,000 children were paralysed every year in more than 125 endemic countries. Today only 41 cases remain, 32 in Pakistan, nine in Afghanistan, said Dr. Peter Clement. The WHO emphasised, however, that much is left to be done including continued work to reach every child with a polio vaccine as well as the strengthening of surveillance and routine immunisation across the region, which, he said, are the keys in keeping wild polio virus at bay and to protect the gains achieved. To share in the joy of the occasion were the partners, aid donors and international agencies, the country representatives of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and United States Aid for International Development (USAID), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Germany, the European Union, and Canada. The Emir of Jiwa, Alhaji Idris Musa, represented the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee.
We congratulate Nigeria on this great achievement and the health officials at all levels. The GPEI, the public-private partnership which led the effort to eradicate polio from the planet called the event a “historic achievement” in global health. The African Regional Certification Committee (ARCC) said it had accepted Nigeria’s polio eradication documentation. This was announced by the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, who described the occasion as an “amazing moment in history.” Dr. Shuaib praised the efforts of Nigerians, from the President, traditional and religious leaders, to development partners, past and present leaders of the Federal Ministry of Health, health workers, the media, polio victims and parents
Dr. Shuaib’s sense of gratitude is understandable when viewed from a tortuous history, the fact that in 2003, the Kano State government banned polio immunisation in the state, a phenomenal setback. Although the ban was reversed a year later, it led to reversal of progress in 21 countries, many of which had been certified polio-free by WHO. Indeed, in its analysis, Foreign Policy said “Nigeria just won a complex victory over polio.” The country’s vaccinations have overcome distrust, misinformation and an insurgency to reach this point, it said, but they can’t stop yet. It recalled a period in Northern Nigeria when the place was awash with rumours that the oral polio vaccines were being used as a front to let Western powers sterilise Muslim communities so they could decrease the size of their populations. Fortunately, those days are now behind us.
The eradication of polio, a disease that has a well-tested and efficacious vaccine, is a good indication of how hard it is to eradicate pandemic diseases and why the struggle against malaria and tuberculosis has been uphill. The warnings of WHO is very explicit that any relenting in our efforts to immunise Nigeria children even for a moment would result in swift re-infection. Thus, while we celebrate the conquest of polio we should work hard to strengthen our primary healthcare facilities. We should invest and expand our facilities and technology and exercise vigilance. There is need to continue the education and sensitisation campaigns about polio in order to reduce ignorance and superstition. We urge all tiers of government to heavily invest in the healthcare of Nigerians.