Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Steps to certify Nigeria polio free by the World Health Organization (WHO) has commenced, with the arrival of officials of the Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for a two-week visit to the country to conduct critical analysis and verify the accuracy of certification documents prepared by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
A medical doctor who pleaded anonymity speculated to Daily Sun in Abuja that Nigeria might not pass the test, as traces of wild poliovirus still occur in parts of the country, particularly in the northern states.
Related: Africa now free of wild polio
The WHO African Regional Director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, has in the meantime constituted the visiting team to serve as the principal advisory body to review country-level certification reports and formulate recommendations for certification.
ARCC members review certification documentation from 47 countries in the WHO African Region, and also verify the absence of poliovirus in the presence of certification-standard surveillance.
The independent Commission has already accepted the documentation of 43 African countries as part of the process to certify the African Region free from all types of wild poliovirus, with only Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria, and South Sudan remaining.
No wild poliovirus has been detected anywhere in Africa since 2016. This stands in stark contrast to ten years earlier in 1996, a year when wild poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across every country on the continent.
In Nigeria, the last wild poliovirus-caused paralysis was detected on 21 August, 2016, while the last environment sample with traces of the virus was detected in Kaduna State from a sewage sample collected on May 5, 2014.
The World Health Organization, in a statement released in Abuja on Sunday, explained that requirements for the region’s certification include that no wild poliovirus transmissions are detected for a minimum of three consecutive years in all the region’s countries, coupled with having a high quality certification standard acute flaccid paralysis surveillance, a clinical symptom of poliomyelitis in all countries for the three years.
Other considerations include that countries maintain high immunisation coverage for oral polio vaccine, maintain a robust national polio outbreak preparedness and response plan, and a functional National Polio Certification Committee.
Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, confirmed that the ARCC team has invited Nigeria to present its final documentation to receive a wild polio-free status in June 2020.
“In this light, the ARCC has planned two field verification visits. The first is to the southern states from 9 to 20 December, 2019 and the second is to the northern states, from 2 to 13 March 2020,” he said.
WHO Nigeria Team Lead, Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), Dr Fiona Braka, said that during the verification visit to Nigeria, nine ARCC members will assess the strides made so far in the fight against polio and deliberate on key resolutions in view of Nigeria’s polio status.
She added that “having achieved the milestones of primary requirements, the ARCC will first review the complete documentation report of the interruption of wild poliovirus type 1 and then proceed to conduct field verification visits to select states in the south of Nigeria.
“If the ARCC is satisfied with the national documentation and field verification after both visits in December 2019 and March 2020, the WHO African Region would be certified to have eradicated polio by mid-2020,” she said.