Nigeria on Wednesday, 21st August 2019, marked a great milestone by reaching the three-year mark without any case of the Wild Polio Virus (WPV) anywhere in the country. This could result in the whole of Africa being declared polio-free early next year. The last case of WPV was detected on 21st August in 2016 in Borno State.
Poliomyelitis is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by polio virus. When used to describe outbreaks of infectious diseases, the word “exponential” strikes fear into the hearts of policymakers. In 2018, only three polio-endemic countries remain: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Since 1988 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began, cases worldwide have decreased by 99 per cent, falling from around 350,000 cases to 416 in 2013. Now 31 years down the line, the target is yet to be achieved, but if eradicated in these countries, it will be the second disease to be eradicated around the globe after smallpox.
For Nigeria, the journey has been long and arduous against the deleterious and transmissible threat to human health as it has spurred major advances in health care science and delivery. The remarkable progress has not come easy. It came as a result of political will, sustained investment and great perseverance through many challenges and setbacks.
On 21st August 2016, the last polio virus case in Nigeria was seen in Monguno Local Government Area in the North-Eastern state of Borno which brought a huge sense of disappointment to the public health sphere. The polio eradication effort took a direct hit in 2013 when militants attacked some foreign doctors and staff administering the vaccines, forcing many doctors and nurses to flee the region for safety. Thousands of children deep in villages and towns in the North Eastern part of the country especially Borno State do not get the opportunity to be immunised due to the Boko Haram insurgency.
As Nigeria awaits to be declared polio-free, there must be a continuous follow up to prevent re-occurrence of the disease. A strengthened surveillance, education on the recent cases of Circulating Vaccine-Derived Polio Virus type 2 (cVDPV2) and most importantly, supplementary immunization needs to be put in place in our efforts towards receiving a polio-free certification.
Special thanks are due international philanthropist and donor agencies Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to government agencies such as the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), policymakers, international partners, religious and traditional rulers, and our frontline women carrying carriers and insulated boxes every time.
While celebrating the milestone, Nigeria should maintain high quality and effective surveillance for polio to avoid resurgence. We are days away from being declared polio-free. We have all it takes. Yes, we can!
Yusuf Hassan Wada, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto