Two Years Without Polio, But…

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Despite the remarkable milestone, there is still need to be committed to the fight against the crippling disease

Polio, that debilitating illness that has crippled thousands of Nigerian children, is on its way to being confined to history in the country. This July, Nigeria attained the milestone of two years without polio, one of the key steps towards finally getting rid of the virus before the certification as a polio-free country. This progress dates back to July 24, 2014, exactly two years ago today, when the last case of polio was reported in a 16 months old boy from Sumaila Local Government in Kano State. It is a no mean achievement because stopping polio will save hundreds of thousands of children in our country from lifelong paralysis or death.

From the bitter experience of 2012 when the country appeared to be losing the battle against the virus, there has been a steady progress which climaxed with the stoppage of transmission of the wild polio virus. This important milestone in the polio programme is therefore a signal toward eradication. And the heroes of these achievements are the ‘armies’ of vaccinators, community mobilisers, traditional and religious leaders, parents and caregivers who have supported polio and other immunisation efforts for more than a decade, despite the challenges in implementation. We must salute their doggedness.

Specifically, the achievements can be linked with a number of strategic approaches in healthcare delivery as well as strong investment by the Nigerian government to increase domestic funding for the programme which hitherto had been mainly supported by donors. Other approaches include establishment of health camps in high risk and underserved areas to help build trust and deliver other health services alongside polio vaccination; engagement of about 14,000 female voluntary community mobilisers (VCMs), who are delivering the polio vaccine and other critical health interventions to mothers and children in some of the hardest-to-reach areas of the country.

Equally important is the improvement in surveillance by health workers, traditional healers, teachers and other community members who have been trained to identify potential cases of the virus and make sure any suspected polio cases are reported. Surveillance officers conduct regular surveillance of sewage and other samples to test for the presence of the virus in the environment.

Despite this progress, Nigeria cannot afford to relent. The country still require continued commitment from the government and its international partners including United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organisation (WHO), Rotary International, United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC) as well as key funders like the Bill Gates Foundation and the Dangote Foundation, among others. There is also need for sustained accountability at the national, state and local government levels to ensure the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) reaches every eligible child in the country.

Besides, the authorities need to address the remaining challenges that may roll back the gains so far. Primary health care services should be available in every ward with full complement of staff. Also, continued improvement in routine immunisation would have a far reaching impact on prevention of vaccine preventable diseases in the country. Overall, our health care service should be able to reach every citizen wherever they may be and provide quality service even in remotest parts of the nation. The health ministry and the agency in charge of the mandate for routine immunisation should ensure that the current milestone is not taken for granted.

The final steps to eradicating polio for good require commitment at all levels. The programme should not be starved of funds and all partners and government should live up to their promise. If we do all this, we will join other countries where polio is a disease of the past.
pix: Adewole- Health Minister.jpg

QUOTE: The authorities need to address the remaining challenges that may roll back the gains so far. Primary health care services should be available in every ward with full complement of staff. Also, continued improvement in routine immunisation would have a far reaching impact on prevention of vaccine preventable diseases in the country