WHO Declares Nigeria Polio Free

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  • Don’t stop vaccination until entire world is free, Tomori warns Nigeria

Martins Ifijeh

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Nigeria polio free, leaving the devastating disease endemic in only two countries of the world; Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is even as a renowned virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on Poliomyelitis Eradication and Routine Immunisation, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, has warned that the country must continue to vaccinate children against the virus until the remaining two affected countries in the world are declared free.

In a tweet to announce the feat Thursday, the WHO Nigeria @WHONigeria, said the country had completed documentation for wild polio virus free status, and that the documentation has been accepted by the African Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication.

It said: “This is a historic day for Nigeria, Africa and the global polio programme’’ adding that this has brought the world one major step closer to achieving the goal of ending polio for good.

Since 1988 when the World Health Assembly first declared the virus a disease of international concern that must be eradicated by year 2000, the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99 percent, according to WHO statistics.

At the time, more than 350,000 children were paralysed every year in more than 125 endemic countries, with Nigeria sharing a chunk of this statistics.

As recent as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide, according to WHO.

The country has however since the last three years not recorded a case of the virus until it was Thursday declared polio free.

Sharing his thoughts on the feat, Tomori, who has been one of the scientists at the forefront of addressing the disease in Nigeria, said: “The country must not rest in terms of vaccinating our children even though we are now free from the wild polio virus. Two other countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan are not free yet.

“As long as there are other countries of the world with the virus, Nigerians must continue to vaccinate our children. We may say in this time of COVID-19 that people are not travelling, but once this pandemic is over, and international travel resumes you will see that the chances of anybody getting it is high. So we must not slack down on vaccination until the two other countries are free.

“We are declared free of wild polio virus. There is no more Wild polio virus circulating in the country. We are still having vaccine derived polio, but this is a truly and major step forward.”

Tomori, who said Thursday’s declaration brought tears of joy to his heart as the battle had been on for four decades, explained that way back in 1996, he gave a talk on polio at the Academy of Science, where he spoke on ‘Polio Eradication Race; Will Nigeria Be the Last?’.

He said: “To still be around to see that we finally got it brought tears to my eyes. I actually shed some tears. This time, these were tears of joy because in times past I have shed tears of sorrow for this country for other things. This was different. I know of persons who were actively involved in this journey who are no more around to witness this. So I am grateful to God I have seen it.”