The recent alarm raised by Kastina State government that some of its civil servants have refused to allow their children be immunised with polio vaccines, is to say the least worrisome. It is disheartening given the joyous mood of the nation over its present polio status.
On Monday, October 26, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari received the country’s new polio status from the World Health Organisation, WHO. Less than two weeks after this monumental feat, there are worrying signs from the President’s own state that could dash this hope. According to reports, civil servants in the state are refusing their children from being immunised with polio vaccines. And the government has expressed grave concern suggesting that the tempo required by the world health body to qualify Nigeria wholly in 2017 may not be realisable. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries still on the WHO endemic list.
Expressing government’s concern at a polio sensitisation meeting with senior government officials, the permanent secretary in the state’s Ministry of Health, Dr Ahmed Muhhammed Qabisiyyu, noted that civil servants were hindering the immunisation exercise.
He said during the September polio immunisation exercise, about 18,476 children were not immunised, adding that the disturbing figure was as a result of the refusal of over 600 civil servants to allow immunisation officers visit their homes to vaccinate their children.
Although he explained that the state has not recorded any polio case in the last 35 months, however, the attitude of the civil servants may lead to the emergence of fresh cases, he warned.
It would be recalled that WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, who represented the Director General of the organisation, Dr. Margaret Chan, while congratulating the country over its new status, also warned that it was not yet Uhuru. Dr Moeti explained that the road to final eradication of the virus was long and tortuous and warned the Nigeria government against being complacent.
What she meant by this was that new cases of the dreaded poliovirus had not occurred and/or been reported in the last one year, and such tempo should be sustained until 2017 when a clean bill of health is issued to the country.
We cannot say that these new signals from Katisna State are not worrisome, given the commitment of the Federal Government to sustaining the current tempo and finally wiping out the dreaded disease from the life of the country, beyond the 2017 target set by the world body.
But the battle to sustainability in the country must start with the Kastina saga which has raised the red alert and has the propensity to jeopardise the already earned successes in the polio fight. From there, other seeming vulnerable states can be identified and then the push is driven to more states in the country, especially in the North where the disposition not to tackle the polio menace is more visible. As it were, Nigeria still enjoys her current status and it is hoped we don’t’ return to the dark days of a polio ravaged country as well as remain perpetual in the same category as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In fact, we urge Nigerians to maintain the mood of the current nationwide celebration as it is indisputable that poliovirus has really killed and crippled several children. The statistics are huge and so is the present success story, which gives reason to merry for the reason that the polio success is certainly a great achievement.
For instance, in 1988, there was a staggering figure of 530,000 wild poliovirus cases and by 2011, it fell to 650 and in 2012, only 205 cases were recorded. Now, there are 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. Hence, we join in Mr. President’s optimism that his administration will sustain the current momentum aimed at totally eradicating poliovirus in the country.
To achieve this, we are on the same page with the Kastina State Commissioner for Health, Mariatu Bala Usman and the states Deputy Governor, Alhaji Mannir Yakubu, who charged the civil servants to play a significant role in order to ensure that the polio success is sustained. Although, religious misconception is one of the reasons why many people in Kastina State as well as other areas in the North are sceptical about allowing their children to be vaccinated against polio, we appeal more than ever before to governments at all levels, traditional and religious leaders, as well as the private sector to redouble their efforts to ensure Nigeria gets full certification in 2017.
There is no doubt that we are closer than ever before to ending polio, but the work is incomplete, at least we need two more years to get full certification, so we appeal to all civil servants including those in Kastina and other northern states, indeed nationwide to be vanguards for total eradication of this killer diseases. Once again, all hands must be on deck to achieve this.