UNICEF: Nigeria’s New Polio Cases Underline Risks for Children in Conflict

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Paul Obi and Marvellous Okeke in Abuja

Following the worrisome confirmation of two cases of Polio Virus in Borno State, UNICEF yesterday said the two new cases of polio in Nigeria underline the prevailing risks children encountered in conflict zones.

UNICEF Polio Eradication Director Reza Hossaini said news about the two cases was devastating to the whole efforts to completely eradicate polio from Nigeria.

He said: The sobering news that two children have been paralysed by wild poliovirus in North-eastern Nigeria underscores the urgency of eradicating the disease in conflict-affected areas. The Government of Nigeria and the World Health Organisation have confirmed an outbreak of wild poliovirus in conflict-ridden Borno state, where children are already facing dangerously high levels of malnutrition.”

According to Hossaini, “”the two cases were discovered in parts of Borno that have recently become accessible, but large areas of the state remain unreachable. Nigeria – and the continent – had its last confirmed polio case two years ago and was within a year of being certified polio-free, thanks to a massive mobilisation by the government, partners and local health providers.

“We cannot deny the connection between conflict and the continued threat of polio. The two new cases mean children across the Lake Chad region are now at particular risk. With our partners, we will not stop until we reach every child with polio vaccination,” he said.
To the effect, the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria, supported by the WHO, UNICEF, and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, are rolling out an emergency immunisation campaign, starting in the accessible parts of Borno state.

The discovery and confirmation of the outbreak was as a result of strengthened surveillance due to improved accessibility which has been made possible by the recent military action in liberating more communities in the North-eastern part of the country.

The Minister said the detection of children paralysed by polio shows that surveillance has increased with more access but it is a reminder that the country needs to remain vigilant and immunise all eligible children with polio vaccine until polio is completely eradicated worldwide.

‘’Our overriding priority right now is to rapidly boost immunity in the affected areas to ensure that no more children are affected by this terrible disease, he added.

To that end, the Minister has directed the deployment of a national emergency response team, comprising government and partners to Borno State for immediate and robust polio vaccination campaign, targeting eligible children to prevent the spread of the virus locally and internationally.

In a statement signed by the Deputy Director in the ministry, Olajide Oshundun, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole said government has swung into action, by sending a team to Borno State to appraise the situation.

He said: “The Federal Ministry of Health through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) with the support of partners including WHO and UNICEF are conducting detailed risk analysis to clearly ascertain the extent of circulation of the virus, and to assess overall levels of population immunity in order to guide the response.

“As an immediate response, about one million children are to be immunised in four local government areas in Borno State. Children in adjoining states of Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe will also be immunised bringing the number to about five million in the four states”, he added.

Adewole reiterated the federal government’s commitment to achieving a polio-free Nigeria and assured the general public that this outbreak would be controlled as soon as possible, adding that government would provide the needed resources to contain it.

He further called on other states and local governments to redouble their efforts by safeguarding their territories from importation of the virus by providing the required leadership and ensuring accountability among healthcare workers and other stakeholders.

Adewole recalled that “in 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide, but the country has made significant strides in recent years, going two years without a single case.

“This progress has been as a result of concerted efforts by all level of government, civil society, traditional and religious leaders as well as dedicated health workers,” he said