Odimegwu Onwumere writes that Governor Wike of Rivers State has shown commitment to the fight against polio, following the new cases of the disease that vegetated in Borno State, but such commitment can be enhanced with proper primary healthcare and taking some lessons from the past administration’s polio policies
“As a government, we have invested in the eradication of polio and we shall continue to support Rotary International to achieve this worthy objective,” said Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State on Friday, October 21, 2016.
Wike reiterated his administration obligation to obviate polio and support the campaign against it. He said this when a section of Rotarians from the United States of America, under the auspices of International Director of Rotary International, led by Mr. Brad Howard, stopped over for him at the Government House, Port Harcourt.
That was coming after the World Health Organisation (WHO) on August 11, 2016, confirmed three cases of polio in Nigeria. Albeit, the international health body had on 25th September 2015, announced that Nigeria was no longer on the polio endemic list.
In a statement by the WHO about the feat of 2015, “The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the public-private partnership leading the effort to eradicate polio, called this a ‘historic achievement’ in global health. Nigeria has not reported a case of wild poliovirus since 24 July 2014, and all laboratory data have confirmed a full 12 months have passed without any new cases.”
Buttressing its point, the World Health Organisation, added, “As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. Since then, a concerted effort by all levels of government, civil society, religious leaders and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers have resulted in Nigeria successfully stopping polio.
“More than 200 000 volunteers across the country repeatedly immunised more than 45 million children under the age of five years, to ensure that no child would suffer from this paralysing disease. Innovative approaches, such as increased community involvement and the establishment of Emergency Operations Centres at the national and state level, have also been pivotal to Nigeria’s success.”
In spite of this, with the new cases coming from areas (like Monguno Local Government Area, and south in Jere and Gwoza, Borno State) that were once suffering the torment of Islamic terrorists known as and called Boko Haram in the North-east, no case of polio has however been reported in Rivers State, apart from what a former Rivers State Commissioner for Health under ex-Governor Chibuike Amaechi, Dr. Tamunoiyoriari Parker stated during the first National Immunisation Plus Days, (IPDs) campaign against polio disease in 2012.
Partker said, “Despite the increase in the number of people effected nation-wide in 2011, only one case of polio disease was confirmed in Rivers State in May, 2007 and in the past five years Rivers State has a clean bill of health on the polio disease, which was achieved by collaborative efforts of stakeholders and agencies in the state coupled with the deliberate effort of the state government to eradicate the disease.”
But experts believe that more cases can spring up if urgent measures are not put in place to scuttle the menace headlong. And the fears of this might be the restlessness that Wike has shown against the scourge, hence he has been calling on all stakeholders and medical experts to rise up to the occasion in making sure that Nigeria is brought back to the WHO’s index as a free-polio country.
It is evident that Wike has been working with stakeholders like the Rotary Club, whose field coordinator, Aminu Muhammad was it that confirmed the new cases of polio in the northern Borno State. The highlight of this is that Rivers State might not be free from polio if Wike has not been showing strong commitment to the fight against polio in the state, since the state had once recorded a victim, no matter the year.
Wike and opinion leaders in Rivers State might learn that if over 1.5 million children were vaccinated by Rotary in Borno a week before the new find, Rivers State is not immune to polio. The find in Borno was said by the WHO that it was as a result of lackadaisical approach by the authorities in not detecting the virus which went spiral for five years due to the Boko Haram nuisance in the area. But Wike was invariably showing through his body language, suggesting that Rivers State had every privilege to prevent the budding of polio since the state is not part of the areas which the WHO said is too hazardous to approach for vaccination.
There might be some upheavals in some parts of Rivers State caused by unintelligent youths, but the Rivers government has every favour to share in a plan of the WHO to reach 25 million children before the year dingdongs its bell. Wike could be assuring the residents of the state that they have nothing to fear, remembering April 27 2016, when the WHO’s representative in Nigeria, Dr Riv Game Vas, visited him in Government House, Port Harcourt, and thanked him for his mettle in sending any form of Lassa Fever packing in the state, which was in the news early this year.
Vas also thanked Wike and the country for the efforts in underneathing the country polio free in the past 21 months. But showing that he is open-minded to accept any policy that is people-oriented, Wike on May 2, 2016, during the swearing-in of the substantive president of the Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Gabriel Nwankwo in government House, said, “I will support any policy of the Federal Government that will enhance the living standard of the people of Rivers State. It doesn’t matter who initiated such policy as long as it favours our people.”
So, to win the battle of any eventuality of polio in Rivers State, Wike has to review some measures taken by the past government in Rivers State with which it fought the virus. In 2013, the then Governor Amaechi flagged-off the National Immunisation Plus Days Campaign against poliomyelitis in the state that year. Baby Faith Tom, one year and four months old; and Baby Pamela Engofa, aged three and half years, were the two kids that Amaechi dispensed with oral polio vaccine to flag off the National Immunisation plus days crusade against polio at the Degema Local Government Council Headquarters.
Although, Wike had said that his government will make sure that the required attention is given to primary healthcare facilities across the state, when Vas visited him. He has to take this area seriously. And the primary healthcare might not be efficiently harnessed without the proper and thorough involvement of women.
This is the reason it is palpable to take the message delivered by the wife of the governor, Justice Eberechi Nyesom Wike, seriously.
On July 9, 2016, Justice Wike at the Christ Church, Port Harcourt, after she inaugurated the Mammogram Centre built in the church premises by the Christ Church Women’s League, had called for public-private partnership in the health sector. Her view was that this would enhance more people having entrée to reputable healthcare facilities. Justice Wike nonetheless called on women to acquiesce themselves for timely screening for breast cancer.
Governor Wike might follow some tips that Parker dished out during the first National Immunization Plus Days, (IPDs) campaign against polio disease in 2012, that were used to curb polio in the state. Parker had hinted that there should be House to House polio immunization which commenced in the state on Saturday 18th February 2012 with the inclusion of churches, schools, playground, health facilities and all settlements and children less than five years of age, because the child rights law No. 10 of 2009 guarantees the right of the child to be immunized.
Parker added, “To fight the disease, deliberate policy must be followed to overcome and eradicate it completely. Such policy thrust include, effective mass communication, health education and awareness creation, collaboration, surveillance and evaluation of eradication strategies.”
It was learnt that during the Amaechi administration, the state government through the Ministry of Health betrothed in a laudable grassroots tilting polio vaccination operation. That administration made sure that there was free medical care programme. This helped patients enough in understanding and attending to their health challenges and the primary healthcare centres became a vehicle that assisted the past administration on immunisation services as well as other precautionary and therapeutic services, inter alia.