Buhari Pledges Timely Release of Funds for Polio Eradication

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• As Nigeria marks two years without a single case

Tobi Soniyi and Kasim Sumaina in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday in Abuja said he would ensure timely release of funds required for the polio eradication programme.

The president made the pledge, as Nigeria, today marks two years without a case of polio; an important milestone for the polio eradication initiative and a major step towards polio-free certification for the country in 2017.

Speaking at the second anniversary of interruption of wild-polio virus transmission in Nigeria, Buhari said government remained firm in its commitment to ensure the World Health Organisation (WHO) certifies Nigeria polio-free in 2017.

The president said making Nigeria polio free remained his priority, adding, “We will continue to do our best to ensure timely release of funds required for polio eradication programme. The good health and well-being of Nigerian children remain an important part of our drive to national development.

“We have demonstrated our strong commitment in this regard with the allocation of N12.6 billion in the 2016 budget for vaccines and programmes to prevent childhood killer diseases such as polio, measles, yellow fever and others.”

He said Nigeria would continue to cooperate with international public and private partners to ensure that Nigerian children do not suffer from the crippling disease again.

He said: “We recognise the power of global partnership to achieve a polio-free world and Nigeria will continue to honour its commitment to ensure that this disease is wiped off the face of the earth for good.”
The president said government would encourage leaders in the states and local governments to continue to provide direction, supervision and improved surveillance activities.

According to him, these are critical as Nigeria collaborates towards ensuring that polio moves closer to extinction in Nigeria and by extension on the African continent.
He thanked development partners particularly WHO, UNICEF, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, USAID, US-Centre for Disease Control, Rotary International, and a host of others who contributed financially and materially to make Nigeria polio-free.

Meanwhile, when Nigeria has achieved three years without a case of polio, it will be certified polio-free. This was disclosed in a press release made available to Journalists in Abuja by the Chief of Communication, UNICEF, Doune Porter.
Marking the feat, Buhari, who leads the country’s Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, noted: “This is a historic moment that has brought Africa and the world the closest it has ever been to eradicating this devastating disease. But our job is not yet done.”

According to the President, “We must protect the gains we have made and stay on course to tackle the challenges that remain in eliminating polio for good.” He added that the federal government will “continue to provide the needed oversight and resources to achieve polio eradication in 2017.”

Speaking in similar vein, Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole, assured that the federal government was committed to building resilience by “getting people out of their comfort zones to further enhance the quality of polio campaigns, reach children in difficult areas and continue to improve routine immunisation.”

Also, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Ado J.G. Muhammad, said efforts are ongoing to close the remaining gaps in the programme, including “increasing environmental surveillance sites and community informants across the country.”

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the public-private partnership leading the effort to eradicate polio, applauded the commitment of tens of thousands of people – including Nigerian officials at all levels, UN and NGO partners, health workers, and community leaders and volunteers in keeping polio out of Nigeria for the past two years. “The National Laboratories in Nigeria have been vigilant in monitoring for polio cases,” said WHO Nigeria Acting Representative Dr. Rex Mapazanje. “We must continue to be on alert for any sign of the virus through heightened surveillance, particularly in the vulnerable populations including insurgency-hit areas of northeast Nigeria and the adjoining areas of Cameroon, Chad and Niger,” Mpazanje added.

“Achieving a polio-free Africa will bring us closer than ever to a polio-free world, but that success should not be taken for granted,” said UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative Jean Gough, adding: “We must continue to work together with all partners, in particular with the traditional institutions at all levels, to ensure we reach every child so we can relegate this paralysing disease to history forever.”

As long as polio exists anywhere, it poses a threat everywhere. It is essential that Nigeria and the global community continue to vaccinate children against polio. Intensive efforts to vaccinate every child, particularly across Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan and any high-risk or insecure areas are critical.

GPEI partners emphasised that in order to sustain gains made against polio, Nigeria and the broader African region must improve and sustain political and financial commitment at all levels of government. They must also improve their surveillance systems so that in the event of a case of polio, rapid action can be taken to prevent any spread of the disease.

Frontline polio workers are also delivering other critical health and nutrition interventions to children, including measles vaccinations and vitamin A supplements.

“Investments to end polio across the African region and around the world are developing a lasting infrastructure and knowledge base that will help to improve the delivery of basic healthcare services and other life-saving vaccines, especially to people living in poor and hard to reach areas,” noted Dr. Ado Muhammad of the NPHCDA.