Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The World Health Organisation has raised the alarm that 500,000 children were denied access to immunisation from the wild poliovirus in 2016, due to insurgency in the North-east.
WHO’s Polio Eradication Programme Coordinator, Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Pascal Mkanda, told journalists yesterday that Nigeria had already been adjudged polio-free earlier but in July 2016 four cases were recorded in Borno State.
Makanda spoke at a virtual press conference ahead of the official certification of Africa as a polio-free continent.
The announcement of the certification of the eradication of polio in Africa is expected to hold today (Tuesday).
President Muhammadu Buhari, Bill Gates, and industrialist, Aliko Dangote, are expected to attend.
Makanda said, “We had a setback in 2016 and later, in July 2016, we saw four cases in the North-East, Borno to be specific. So, working together, using a lot of technology, we estimated that we still had close to 500,000 children who were not being reached because they were trapped due to the insurgency.”
Mkanda said due to combined efforts that included the military, the figure had dropped to 10,000, which were not enough to sustain transmission.
“We have used a lot of technology, satellite imagery, we have worked with the military and by the time the African Regional Commission was making the decision that we had indeed tamed transmission in that place, we are talking of about less than 10,000 children in a very large geographical area where they cannot sustain transmission.”
Also speaking, the Chairperson, African Regional Commission for the Certification of the Eradication of Poliomyelitis, Dr. Rhodes Leke, said although Africa would be officially declared polio-free on August 25, 2020, there was still a need to maintain surveillance.
Leke noted that Afghanistan and Pakistan still had cases of polio that could be imported to any other country in Africa.
She added, “Surveillance needs to be heightened. There are still two countries in the world – Afghanistan and Pakistan – that are still harbouring the transmission of the wild polio virus. So, we can have importations at any time.
“So, we need to heighten surveillance in all our countries. We need to improve on immunisation coverage because it is important we bring up the population’s immunity. If there is an importation and we have a high population immunity that cannot stay. So, surveillance is important and it has to continue. Immunisation must continue.
On her part, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the designation of Africa as a polio-free continent was a memorable achievement.
She noted that 40 years ago, Africa was similarly declared free of smallpox.
Moeti said she had hoped that polio would have been eradicated in Africa as far back as 2000.
“Tomorrow (Tuesday), the commission is set to certify the WHO African region free of the wild poliovirus. This will be a momentous milestone for Africa. It marks only the second eradication of a virus from the surface of the continent since smallpox 40 years ago. Now, future generations of African children can live free of wild poliovirus. The journey to this momentous achievement started 24 years ago in 1996,” she said.