There was joy all over the country last week when it was reported that for one whole year, no new case of polio virus was recorded in Nigeria.
What that meant was that the country was already winning the war against one of the world’s deadliest diseases against children. The success recorded so far in the prevention and treatment of this disease is highly commendable and deserves celebration.
Unarguably, polio virus has crippled the lives of several children and even caused the deaths of many others. Considering the statistics and the huge success that has been recorded in an effort to eradicate polio, then there is cause to cheer. Measured against other equally difficult health challenges, such as HIV/AIDS and Malaria, the polio fight is certainly a great achievement.
For instance, in 1988, there was a staggering figure of 530,000 Wild Polio Virus, WPV cases and by 2011, it fell to 650 and in 2012 only 205 cases were recorded. But, in the last one year, there have been no reported or known cases of polio in the country. The successes recorded can be attributed in part to the relentless efforts of partners, religious, community leaders and other categories of health workers.
Luckily, in the fight against polio, the world has a better partner in the Microsoft founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates. He has poured out billions of dollars into the fight to contain and eliminate the disease in the world, especially in Nigeria and other developing countries. Aside using his wealth through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fight polio, he also fights many of the seemingly intractable diseases, including Malaria, HIV/AIDS and if more of philanthropists like him can channel parts of their wealth willingly to the fight, the world will be a healthier place to live in.
Although the battle is yet to be totally won, three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria stand in the way of a polio-free world. Already, there is the optimism that this target will be met before the 2017 deadline.
The good news however is that no new case has so far been recorded this past one year. The delay could be attributed in part to the temporary suspension of the vaccination against the virus in the early 2000 in some states in the north which led to an upsurge in the infection rate of the virus.
Now that the world is within a ‘touching distance’ of eradicating polio, Nigeria and the whole world can help make the last round of the battle against polio less difficult by sensitising the public, especially rural communities on the deadly danger of polio, ensuring that every child is immunised and fortifying the borders to ensure that the carriers of the disease do not cross over.
We therefore appeal to governments at all levels, traditional and religious leaders, as well as the private sector to redouble their efforts to rid mankind of this paralysing and deadly scourge.
Thankfully, Nigeria is closer than ever before to ending polio, but it is not yet Uhuru, at least two more years must pass without a case of wild polio virus for Nigeria to be certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation, WHO.
To achieve this goal therefore, Nigeria and all countries in the African region must maintain high quality surveillance against the polio virus and extend vaccination campaigns, particularly to hard-to-reach and insecure areas, and also improve routine immunisation.