Nigeria can replicate India’s feat and be the next country to be declared polio-free. The quantum leap in polio eradication that the country requires to make that mark should be pursued with gusto.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has made the landmark announcement that Nigeria has at last been removed from the list of polio-endemic countries in the world. President Muhammadu Buhari has of course hailed the removal of Nigeria from the ignoble list. Nigeria’s exclusion from the list, which was announced by the WHO in a statement last week, marked the first time the country has interrupted transmission of wild polio virus, thus “bringing the country and the African region closer than ever to being certified polio-free.”
President Buhari in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, expressed delight over the announcement, which followed the absence of any case of the virus in Nigeria since July 24, 2014. Buhari applauded the concerted efforts of government officials, health workers, volunteer groups, civil society, religious leaders, traditional rulers and international partners, which resulted in this historic achievement. He expressed his immense joy in joining other Nigerians and the global community in celebrating Nigeria’s removal from the list of polio-endemic countries, and urged continued vigilance to ensure that “Nigeria maintains this new status.” He directed all government ministries, departments and agencies involved in the polio eradication effort, to remain proactively engaged and on guard against the re-emergence of the polio virus in Nigeria. He then assured the WHO and the global community that the Federal Government would ensure that immunisation and surveillance activities continued across Nigeria, to keep the country polio-free.
It was the introduction of the Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) into the nation’s routine immunization schedule that gave fresh hope not only to the country but to the entire world that the global eradication of polio was in sight. Nigeria happens to be one of the last frontiers in the global campaign to eradicate polio, being one of the three countries – others are Pakistan and Afghanistan – where polio was said to be endemic.
The introduction of IPV, given as an injection in the leg or arm, as against the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), taken by mouth and erstwhile being used in the country, was in line with the commitment of the government to make Nigeria the next country to be declared polio-free by the WHO. It would be recalled that WHO in 2012 had called on all countries using OPV to introduce at least one dose of the IPV into their routine immunization schedule by the end of 2015, and gradually phase out the use of OPV. According to WHO, IPV has been used successfully in the polio eradication programmes in some countries. But the vaccine continues to be used in countries where polio is endemic or where the risk of importation and transmission is high. The introduction of IPV provided a quantumleap opportunity for Nigeria in the polio-eradication endgame strategy. Dr Rui Gama Vaz, the WHO Country Representative described IPV as very safe and highly effective in preventing the paralytic disease caused by polio.
In 2003, Nigeria had the highest number of polio cases anywhere in the world and accounted for 45 per cent of all confirmed cases globally. Fortunately, the polio prevalence figure then dropped significantly. From 798 cases recorded in 2008, the figure declined to 388 in 2009 and 21 in 2010. The number rose to 53 in 2013 and then declined to six in 2014. Nigeria has recorded no fresh case of wild polio virus type-1 since August last year and wild polio virus type-3 since November 2013, an indication that the innovations of the polio eradication programme in the past two years are on point. However, there was an increase in circulating vaccine derived poliovirus in 2014 with 30 reported cases.
Even as the WHO has removed Nigeria from the list of polio-endemic countries, this is not the time for Nigeria to rest on her oars. She should strive to emulate countries like India which has completely eradicated the virus from her shores. India’s poor sanitation, mass internal migration and dilapidated public health system made many experts believe it would be the last country to eradicate the disease, if it ever would. But India recorded a milestone last year when, together with 10 other Asian countries, she was declared polio-free by WHO having recorded no fresh case of polio in three years
Nigeria can replicate India’s feat and be the next country to be declared polio-free. The quantum leap in polio eradication that the country requires to make that mark should be pursued with gusto. There is need for Nigeria to surmount the challenges of limited health infrastructure, insecurity, inadequate mobilisation of community groups, as well as management and funding issues, among others, if she is to meet that goal. We are convinced that Nigeria has the wherewithal to overcome these obstacles and kick polio out of the country forever. By so doing, the country can put an end to the sufferings, paralysis and death often associated with the disease and also save resources that could be channelled to the provision of better health services to Nigerians. It takes just three years for Nigeria to be declared completely polio-free like India.