By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Last week, in the nations capital, Abuja, Nigerian government declared that it has made history in the fight against polio virus, and will be certified polio free next year.
Nigeria, which is the only polio endemic country in the African continent, and one of the three countries in the world, has not seen a case since 2016. If the country reaches three years without detecting the virus, the entire WHO AFRO Region could be certified wild polio-free as early as 2020.
The Executive Director, National Primary Health Care (NPHC), Dr. Faisal Shuaib said the the country has achieved three years without a case of Wild Polio Virus (WPV). “The last WPV case was isolated in a child in Borno State on 21st August 2016.”
He however cautioned that despite the success achieved, “the country will not lose sight of the huge amount of work that is left to be done before we are certified polio-free by the relevant global organizations.”
Speaking in a world press conference on “Three years without wild polio virus case in Nigeria”, Shuaib said, “there is no doubt that three years without a case of Wild Polio Virus is a historic milestone for the Polio eradication programme in Nigeria and the global community.
“This achievement would certainly not have been possible without the novel strategies adopted in the consistent fight against polio and other vaccine preventable diseases. We commend the strong domestic and global financing and the commitment of government at all levels. We appreciate the leadership and support from our traditional leaders especially the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on PHC, donors, development and local partners. We give kudos to the efforts of all the health workers and the care givers for their patience and understanding.
“Above all, we humbly and sincerely appreciate the support of the President Muhammadu Buhari who has ensured that he walked his talk. We may recall that in August 2015, the President declared that ‘I will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the necessary resources and commitment required of my government are in place and efficiently utilized to strengthen routine immunization and finish the job of polio eradication.” I must say that Mr. President has kept to his words as he has provided us with the needed resources and oversight, to achieve a WPV-free status including ensuring that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, convenes the quarterly meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, to assess the performance of states.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that the media has been very pivotal to our success. We sincerely appreciate the vibrant Nigerian press. Your understanding and support have been highly motivating especially for our vaccinators who are the most valuable human resource in this effort.
“An occasion such as this, gives cause to look back to the years in which the polio virus reigned virtually unfettered, consigning our children to crutches and wheel chairs, if they survive at all.
“The road to where we are today, has been very tortuous and tragic, as some of our colleagues paid the supreme price. Others that were lucky, sustained various degree of injuries, some resulting in permanent disabilities. They are the real heroes in the fight against this disease. Their names have been written in gold, and like our National Anthem states, “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain”.
“We also recall the seeming success between 2014 -2016 in the fight against the Wild Polio Virus that was truncated by the resurgence of the Wild Polio Virus in August 2016. The Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and development partners took the setback in their strides and mounted a globally acclaimed rapid and aggressive outbreak response. Mr President immediately released N9.8billion and charged the programme to look for more viruses and contain the outbreak within the shortest possible time. The result is what we are marking here today – 3 years of being WPV-free!
“The NPHC and Partners responded swiftly, increasing the sensitivity of the surveillance system and deploying innovative strategies to reach children, especially in the inaccessible areas of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. These include vaccinating children through firewalling, international border vaccination, local transit vaccination, Nomadic, hospital, market and vaccinations at camps for Internal Displaced Persons (IDP).”
The NPHCDA boss also said, with achievement of 3 years without the Wild Polio Virus, Nigeria has commenced the process of documentation towards the final certification by the Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC).
He said the process involves a detailed assemblage and review of surveillance, Routine Immunization (RI) and Supplemental Immunization Activities (SIAs) Data by the National Certification Committee before submission of the final documentation to ARCC in March, 2020.
“If ARCC is satisfied with the country’s documentation, Nigeria will be certified Wild Polio Virus free.”
He added that as the country inches towards the last bend of the polio eradication, “It is pertinent to state that political leaders at all levels would need to continue to provide the needed oversight and financial support for Immunization plus days (IPDs), while our traditional and religious leaders need to sustain the mobilization of their people to continuously accept vaccination for their children and wards.
“We urge our development partners and donors to sustain their technical and financial support to the programme until the job is done. To our caregivers, we salute you and encourage you to continue to present your children for vaccination against polio as every additional dose boosts the child’s immunity. Also, it is important that every child is fully vaccinated against childhood killer diseases through routine immunization available at our health facilities before their first birthday.
“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, completely eradicating all types of Polio Virus will be one of the greatest achievements in human history. It will have a lasting, positive impact on the African continent and indeed the world’s health systems for generations to come. However, we must not take for granted, our current success because it is one which we must delicately manage with cautious euphoria and resilience.
“Today is a great day to be Nigerian; today, we have proven that we can do great things when we put our minds and resources to efficient use. Today is also a day to reflect on what we did right and how we can use the same lessons to deliver quality primary health care services to all Nigerians.
“It is imperative that all stakeholders continue to support the Polio programme, through technical, financial support and political oversight to prevent the reoccurrence of the WPV and stop the spread of all the other types of Polio virus in all states and LGAs in Nigeria.”
He added that “there is an urgent need to collectively address the remaining challenges facing the programme today, including the poor access to children in some parts of the country due to insecurity, poor health seeking behaviour of our people, vaccine hesitancy, malnutrition, poor sanitation, inadequate funding for Primary Health Care, especially at State and LGA levels. Polio campaigns will therefore continue in the current tempo and intensity to ensure children and our environment are protected against all types of the polio virus while further strengthening routine immunization against vaccine preventable diseases. The implementation of Immunization Plus Days (IPDs) where we deliver Oral Polio Vaccines (OPV) to children under 5 years of age irrespective of their Immunization status will continue even beyond 2020. This is aimed at boosting the population immunity to maintain the WPV-free status”.
Also speaking, UNICEF Country Representative, Pernille Ironside, called on stakeholders to intensify efforts towards sustaining the achievements of polio in the country.
She said her agency is committed to the government and Nigerian people to ensure that every child is immunized.
“We are glad about our roles in the fight against polio in Nigeria. We ensured community mobilization; going from house to house to immunized children. UNICEF will continue to support Nigeria in-stamping out polio”.
Also speaking, World Health Organisation (WHO), said ending all forms of polio remains an unfinished success story, adding that low immunization rates pose a major risk to other forms of outbreaks.
WHO officer in charge, Dr. Clement Peter called for more political and financial support to the system.