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WHO certifies Nigeria, Africa free of wild polio virus

Nigeria and the African region certified free of wild polio virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday certified Nigeria and the African region free of the wild polio virus.

Before the certification, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan were the only wild polio endemic countries in the world.

Survivor’s Story: As Africa Gets “Polio Free”, Don’t Throw Caution To The Wind

WHO Certifies Africa Free Of Wild Polio Virus

The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication of the organisation officially declared the region free of the virus during a virtual session of the 70th WHO regional committee for Africa.

Polio vaccination

The last case of wild polio virus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria. Since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling, life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180 000 lives, according to WHO.

The ARCC had earlier in June accepted Nigeria’s complete documentation for wild polio virus free status, and removed it from the list of polio endemic countries.

Polio is a viral disease that is transmitted from person to person, mainly through a faecal-oral route or, less frequently, through contaminated water or food, and multiplies inside the intestines.

The ARCC’s decision comes after an exhaustive, decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunisation and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states, which included conducting field verification visits to each country.

The certification marks the eradication of the second virus from the face of the continent after smallpox 40 years ago.

President Muhammadu Buhari described the achievement as historic, adding that African countries could defeat the coronavirus pandemic, in the same manner they eradicated the wild polio virus on the continent.

President Muhammadu Buhari

“I recall that shortly after assuming office in May 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor.

“This certification is, therefore, a personal fulfillment of that pledge to not only Nigerians, but to all Africans.

“At a time when the global community is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that with the requisite political will, investments and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, we will flatten the epidemic curve,” the president said in a statement issued by his spokesman, Femi Adesina.

Buhari assured the global community that Nigeria will sustain the momentum and leverage on the lessons learnt from polio eradication to strengthen its health system, especially primary health care, and prioritize health security.

While congratulating Dr. Matshidiso Moeti and the WHO Regional Committee for Africa on their untiring efforts in polio eradication in Africa, Buhari stressed the need to sustain vaccination of children in Africa, and urged African governments to continue investments in the health sector because “healthy populations create wealthy nations.”

Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC chairperson said it was a historic day for Africa.

“The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio eradication (ARCC) is pleased to announce that the region has successfully met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication, with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported in the region for four years,” she said.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa described it as a momentous milestone for Africa, adding “Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio.”

Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire emphasized that it is the fulfillment of President Buhari’s promise and the resilient spirit of Nigerians, especially frontline health workers, that has given the country this pride of place in the comity of nations.

The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire

Chairman, Aliko Dangote Foundation and Africa’s foremost philanthropist, Aliko Dangote, in his remarks, urged governments across Africa to increase their allocations to the healthcare sector, to help ensure improved basic healthcare for the people.

Aliko Dangote
Alhaji Aliko Dangote.

‘How Nigeria achieved certification ‘NPHCDA

Polio eradication in Nigeria, according to Dr. Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director and Chief Executive of NPHCDA, “Is one classical example of human resilience, where in the face of adversity, in spite of numerous setbacks, over the course of almost three decades, Nigerians came together, relentlessly worked hard with our donors and development partners to eradicate polio.”

He said the achievement of polio eradication in Nigeria did not come easy as it has been a long and arduous journey, with great efforts and investment from government, donors, local and international partners such as Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, WHO, Unicef, CDC, USAID, Gavi, EU, Global Affairs Canada, World Bank, JICA, the Nigeria Governors Forum, to mention a few.

The major problem the programme faced was insecurity, which “slowed our achieving polio eradication”, said Dr. Shuaib in a statement signed by Mohammad Ohitoto Head, Public Relations Unit of the agency.

He said the polio programme was able to surmount this problem and others through the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, the Polio Emergency Operation Centers (EOC), the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Polio Eradication led by His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, increasing demand for health services by ensuring the buy in of communities, and innovative use of technology.

The Director, Centre for Infectious Diseases Research and Control, Bayero University Kano, Professor Isa Sadiq Abubakar described the official declaration of Africa free of poliomyelitis by WHO as a landmark achievement, given the resistance that greeted the medical intervention against the disease in the northern part of Nigeria in the ‘90s.

Professor Abubakar said “there was a time when cases of polio were in hundreds of thousands and we matched through different stages.”

“Initially we started around 1998 where vaccinators were moving from house to house giving children doses of oral polio vaccine through their mouth and this took place for some years and we came to a point where there was a lot of rejection especially in the northern part of the country.

“In fact, in states like Kano, it took even the government to stop polio eradication itself because of suspicion however, a lot of strategies kept changing, new things were introduced in order to improve.

“For instance, around 2005 the government changed its strategy to what it calls Immunization Plus Day where other additives that will improve the health condition of the children were introduced.

“So this helped to improve the situation and other stakeholders that were not carried along initially were brought in, the religious and traditional leaders and they helped to improve the situation,” he said.

Polio survivors excited as WHO declares Africa polio free

In Kano, some of the polio survivors expressed joy over the eradication of the disease from Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

According to Yahaya Yahaya, a survivor, “We will continue to give our maximum cooperation to ensure that no other persons gets polio virus in his body.”

Another survivor, Abdullahi Idris, appealed to parents to always ensure their children are immunized against the deadly disease.

Experts hail development task Nigeria, Africa on increased and sustained vaccination efforts

A public health expert, Prof Oyewale Tomori, said while Nigeria is jubilating over the certification of wild polio virus freedom, we must understand that a lot still has to be done.

He said, it has been unduly long overdue for Nigeria to achieve this milestone if we had done the right things.

“If we had done what is expected of us in the area of routine immunisation like most Africans country that have been certified did, many children wouldn’t have been paralysed and many wouldn’t have died.

“It is self-inflicted obstacle if we look at how we boycotted vaccination way back in 2013.”

The President, Rotary Club of Abuja, Federal 9125, Dr Ezie Patrick, said it was a laudable achievement but that we need to be more vigilant and increase vaccination accessibility.

He said, for every Rotarian in the world, they are excited because they worked assiduously to end polio virus since 1978.

“We have expended over $1.8 billion on vaccination and over two million children have been vaccinated across the world.

“We have been able to show that private organisations can support the government to achieve milestone in fighting against diseases.”

Dr Ezie also said that we have achieved eradication doesn’t mean we should go to sleep but we must gear up effort in providing vaccinations.

Dr Aminu Magashi Garba, Coordinator and Founder, Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) and Global Co-convener, Community of Practitioners on Accountability and Social Action in Health (COPASAH) said, it was a thing of pride for him and many advocates that Nigeria and Africa are declared free of wild polio after decades of work.

He called on the country to remain vigilant and improve surveillance as well as work with polio survivors as champions.

Meanwhile, WHO and UNICEF yesterday congratulated Nigeria on being declared free of the wild polio virus but stressed that achieving this milestone is not the end of the job – all children under five years must continue to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.

This is critical to significantly reduce avoidable mortality in Nigerian children under 5 years old, keep polio permanently out of Nigeria, and ensure better health and wellbeing for future generations.

Dr Walter Kazadi Mulumbo, WHO Nigeria Country Representative, said, “This milestone is a clarion call to urgently rededicate resources to stopping the transmission of all types of poliovirus, strengthening routine immunization to sustain the gains achieved – especially in high risk areas and traditional polio sanctuaries – and maintaining high quality surveillance.”

Ojoma Akor, Muideen Olaniyi Olayemi John- Mensah, (Abuja) Habibu Aminu Umar & Richard P Ngbokai( Kano