Africa ought to be a polio-free continent, if Nigeria had maintained its consistency of free Wild Polio Virus free status by 2017 when. But when three cases of polio was reported in Borno State, this hope was dashed and so Africa is still not totally free from this leg-twisting burden, JOYCE REMI- BABAYEJU writes

ON THE 24th July of this year Nigeria celebrated two years of polio-free transmission which was considered as a giant stride for the country , Africa and the indeed the world which is obviously losing manpower contributions as a result of the devastating nature of the Wild Polio Virus on victims. If Nigeria had kept up with this momentum of zero polio record in the country, by 2017 the World Health Organization, WHO, would have certified the country as a polio-free nation and indeed Africa a polio-free continent, and then global efforts would be on the two remaining countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Nigeria could not sustain this feat due to new three cases of polio virus were reported in children Internally Displaced Persons at Jere, Gwazo and Munguno Local Government Areas of Borno State. At the break of this bad news global efforts at eradicating the virus at a continent level was defeated and the world disappointed. This made the World Health Organization’s African Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti say , “The overriding priority now is to rapidly immunise all children around the affected area and ensure no other children succumb,”. According to WHO report in 2012 Nigeria accounted for more than half of all cases globally.
Also UNICEF Polio Eradication Director, Reza Hossaini , obviously disappointed at the bad news said ‘’we cannot deny the connection between conflict and the continued threat of polio. The two new cases mean children across the Lake Chad region are now at particular risk. With our new partners, we will not stop until we reach every child with polio vaccination.’’ In the same way, WHO’s Director of Polio Programme in the country, Michel Zaffron said that the new cases in Nigeria serves as a reminder that the world cannot be complacent as it is on the brink of polio eradication. “We are confident that with a swift response and strong collaboration with the Nigerian government, we can soon rid the country of polio once and for all,” he said. Globally, only 21 wild polio cases have been reported so far this year, compared with 34 at the same point in 2015, and WHO has been predicting that the virus will be
completely eradicated by 2019 If not for the new cases of the WPV1 reported this year, by July of 2017, Nigeria would have been certified as polio free thereby making Africa free of the polio disease which cripples or kills under- five children. Before the hullabaloo of Nigeria’s being polio-free, just two countries namely Pakistan and Afghanistan were still polio carrying nations, but with the new cases found in Nigeria, the country is still listed as a polio nation. Since August, when those new cases were reported in the North Eastern region of the country, government with the help of partners and donors have being making concerted efforts through sub- national immunization programmes in affected areas and across the country to reach every child and to eradicate polio from the country. The Minister of Health, Professor Issac Adewole had promised that government is determined to kick polio out of the country by combing the nooks and cranny of the country including the Internally Displaced Persons Camps and hard-to-reach communities. In this effort, donors and partners like WHO, Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundations, UNICEF, USAID, Global Fund, Rotary Club International, Helen Keller Foundation and others have provided both funds and technical support towards making sure that children at targeted during immunization programmes. This is part of global efforts at realizing an African polio-free continent. Also on 13th December, the Minister of Health, Professor Issac Adewole, gave an assurance that government is committed to strengthening its immunization program by inclusion of more vaccines into the stable of routine immunization in the country.. Adewole said,’’ In recent times, we have introduced three new vaccines into the routine immunization system (Pentavalent, PCV and IPV) and there are concrete plans to add four more new vaccines (Rota, HPV, Men A and MR) before 2020.’’ ‘’ We have expanded the cold chain at the periphery with 1,656 new solar direct drive (SDD) vaccine refrigerators, repaired 1,200 broken down refrigerators, procured a cold room for every State and expanded storage temporarily at the national
level.’’ The minister disclosed this at the inauguration of the vaccine champions and launch of small grants programme by women advocates for vaccine access, WAVA, in Abuja. Adewole who noted that global funding support for vaccines procurement is shrinking said that the investiture of Vaccine Champions who shall become advocates for adequate funding of immunization activities in their communities, States and our country is very laudable as he also commended WAWA’s small grant which supports advocacy efforts for sustainable immunization services at the grassroots. He said, ‘’ I have no doubts that these lofty advocacy strategies will raise more influential voices and interest that is required to prevent budget cuts, ensure more fund allocation to health and immunization, and increase demand for immunization services so that all eligible Nigerians, no matter their socioeconomic status or where they live, will have unhindered access to lifesaving vaccines.’’ The health minister further disclosed that as part of government’s committed to strengthening its immunization program, it has introduced three new vaccines into the routine immunization system namely (Pentavalent, PCV and IPV) with concrete plans for additional four more new vaccines namely (Rota, HPV, Men A and MR) before 2020. Since vaccine potency is key in immunization exercise, government said it has expanded the cold chain at the periphery with 1,656 new solar direct drive (SDD) vaccine refrigerators, repaired 1,200 broken down refrigerators, procured a cold room for every State and expanded storage temporarily at the national level. The minister explained, ‘’to ensure quality immunization data for effective service delivery, we are strengthening the District Health Information System (DHIS2) platform which is our national health information management system.’’ We have a strong Nigeria Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NGI-TAG) that provides strategic advice in addition to the Inter-agency Coordination Committee (ICC) meetings where we deliberate and approve key
immunization decisions, the health minister informed. Royal father of the day, Emir of Shonga, Dr. Haliru Ndanusa Yahaya at the inauguration of vaccines champions concurred with the minister that the investiture of Vaccine Champions, would amplify the call for adequate funding of immunization activities in their communities, States and the country is timely and highly commendable. The WAVA small grants will also encourage smaller organizations, especially those who work with us in the communities, to continue their advocacy and engagement activities. A combination of these two strategies will obviously raise the needed awareness for adequate funding of immunization program, increased coverage rates and reduced deaths of our children and women from vaccinepreventable deaths, Yahaya said. Speaking on contribution of traditional rulers in ensuring successful immunization exercises in the country said, ‘’as traditional leaders, we have continued to sensitize our followers on the benefit of immunization and mobilize mothers to ensure increased vaccine uptake and coverage. We have also played advisory and visionary roles as heads of governing agencies of national and state-level health Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. The royal father commended efforts of the government of Nigeria in strengthening the immunization program through introduction of new vaccines into the routine immunization system, and also in making efforts to eradicate polio, and encouraged all States of Nigeria to setup their State Primary Health Care Development Agencies (SPHCDA) for a more coordinated and effective management of primary health care programs with routine immunization inclusive. Now is the time for government to intensify its efforts by this final push to kick out polio from, Nigeria, Africa and the world and this when indeed WHO would certify Nigeria as a poliofree nation.

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