THE RESURGENCE OF POLIO

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The relevant authorities must redouble their efforts to ensure polio is kicked out

The World Polio Day held last Monday came with the shameful revelation that Nigeria remains the only African country still battling with the scourge. This is against the background that on July 13 this year, the wild polio virus type one (WPV1) was detected in two local government areas of Borno State. According to the Federal Ministry of Health, the virus was detected in Gwoza Local council in a child with acute flaccid paralysis. The case in Jere Council was from a close healthy contact of a child who had earlier developed the symptoms. Only last month, yet another fresh case was discovered. Whichever way, this is a major blow to the country’s efforts, having stopped the transmission of the virus and had been taken from the list of endemic countries last year.

These new cases were the first WPV1 detected in Nigeria since July 2014. Indeed, last June, the country had a ‘muted’ celebration to mark two years without polio cases, only to be faced with the resurgence of the disease. But rather than bemoan the situation, a more productive approach would be a determination to battle the crippling disease.

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus which invades the nervous system and often causes irreversible paralysis. It can strike at any age but mainly affects children under five. There is no cure for polio as it can only be prevented through vaccination and as long as a single child remains infected with polio, unvaccinated children all over the world are at risk.

It would be recalled that as recently as 2012, Nigeria had accounted for more than half of all global polio cases. But the country made significant progress, thanks to the concerted efforts from all levels of government, civil society, religious and traditional leaders as well as tens of thousands of dedicated health workers to contain the disease. There was also strong community involvement, especially from the volunteer community mobilisers, volunteer ward supervisors and more. The emergency operations centre, established at the national and state levels, form the strategic block for strong response to outbreaks. Yet despite these efforts, we still have the current setback. That is why the relevant authorities must now redouble their efforts to ensure that polio is kicked out once and for all.

The resurgence of the virus is an indication that the battle is far from being won. Even when we must commend the present government for building on past efforts by re-energising the process, there is a need to do more. All officials must roll up their sleeves to tackle the polio challenge.

State governors in the high risk states need to take the lead with their local government officials in every community, especially in Borno and adjourning states in Northern Nigeria. Since a threat of polio in any state is a threat to all Nigerian children, routine immunisation must be intensified considering that the detected cases were reportedly from a stock that had been circulating in the country since 2011. Health officials in all parts of Nigeria, whether north or south, need to do more in their efforts to improve the coverage level of childhood immunisation and other child survival issues that plague the Nigerian child.

As we have argued several times on this page, the key to ridding the country of the devastating disease is a return to routine immunisation regime. As we ask for more intensified campaigns to kick out polio, there is also the need to return to the path of peaceful co-existence. It is evident that the campaigns cannot thrive in the midst of chaos.