On August 25, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) congratulated Nigeria on being declared free from the wild poliovirus and described it as a milestone. The WHO Nigeria Country Representative, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulumbo, said: “WHO rejoices with the people and government of Nigeria and acknowledges that wild polio-free certification is undoubtedly the greatest public health triumph in the annals of Nigeria and indeed Africa that will bequeath to posterity lessons learnt and best practices for addressing future public health interventions.”
Similarly, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, described the feat as a momentous achievement that called for celebration. “This historic achievement not only signifies the end of the wild poliovirus across the entire African continent, but is also a significant springboard towards attaining global polio eradication,” Hawkins noted.
However, barely a year after the WHO certification, the Federal Government recently announced an outbreak of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus Type 2 (cVDPV2) in 13 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The states affected are Abia, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Lagos, Niger, Rivers, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara and the FCT. The resurgence of the wild poliovirus at this point in time is regrettable and must be checked before it spreads to other states. Many factors have been linked to the resurgence of cVDPV2, including the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic after the country was granted certification by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the refusal by some people to take the shots or not completing polio vaccines.
It has been discovered that the emerging variant is different from the regular wild poliovirus. While the wild poliovirus (WPV) is the most common form of poliovirus, circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus or cVDPV is another form of the disease.
Medical experts see the outbreak as a public health concern which poses serious threat to Nigeria’s wild polio virus-free status. According to them, the resurgence is evidence of the poor level of immunisation of children especially newborns. The development calls for concerted action from the government and other stakeholders in halting its spread and transmission to other states of the federation. Poliomyelitis (polio), according to medical experts, is a disease caused by poliovirus. It occurs mostly in children younger than five and in parts of the world that are yet to benefit from wide-scale vaccination. The consequences of polio infection are severe. It is estimated that of every 200 polio infections, one case leads to paralysis, usually in the legs. About fovr per cent to 10 per cent of people paralysed by polio die.
The virus enters the body through the mouth or nose, getting into the digestive and respiratory systems. It multiplies in the throat and intestines. From there, it can enter the bloodstream. It can also attack the nervous system, the nerve network that helps the brain communicate with the rest of the body.
Poliovirus is very contagious and can be transmitted from one person to another through sneezing, coughing or contaminated water and food. While some people recover from the infection, it can be fatal in others.
The alarm by the government on the resurgence of the disease is of great concern. Health authorities across the country should step up action and ensure that the spread is checked. Other states not yet affected should activate all the necessary preventive mechanisms. Relevant government agencies should create the required awareness towards combating the disease.
There is need for increased vaccination of children and keeping of basic hygiene to curb the spread of the disease. The federal and state governments should vote more money to halt the spread of the new strain of polio.
Fortunately, the polio vaccine is available and affordable. Let there be more vaccinations to contain the new polio strain. Good enough, the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) has assured that it has taken steps to address the challenge posed by the polio resurgence. We urge the agency not to relent in this regard.
We enjoin parents to disregard superstitious beliefs that fuel the resurgence of the disease and ensure that their children are vaccinated. Polio is one of the six killer diseases among children and should not be allowed to spread further in the country.