Only Nigeria still strives to be polio-free in Africa

As the world celebrated another World Polio Day on 24 October 2016,  VERA ONANA writes that Nigeria remains the only country on the continent of Africa yet to be certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO).


As Nigerians joined millions of people around the world to celebrate this year’s World Polio Day on Monday, 24 October, 2016, hope is renewed that despite the setbacks suffered in the North East, Nigeria will again get a clean bill of health.

The World Health Organisation in 2015 announced that polio was no longer endemic in Nigeria. It was reported as the first time that Nigeria had interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus, bringing the country and the African region closer than ever to being certified polio-free.

It was described in 2015 by the public-private partnership leading the effort to eradicate polio, Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), as a ‘historic achievement’ in global health.

According to records, since 24 July 2014, Nigeria did not report a case of wild poliovirus and all laboratory data confirmed that 12 months passed in Nigeria without any new cases.

But before then, just in 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. In 2014, the disease was only spreading between people in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Thus, making Nigeria the only country yet to eradicate the polio virus.

Sadly however, after getting so close to being certified polio-free, the Federal Government confirmed two new cases of polio in Borno State, a development that dealt a massive blow on Nigeria’s hope of being certified polio-free by July 2017.

This year, as Nigerians join other nations of the world to mark the World Polio Day, the need for vaccination of every child is being preached vigorously with the hope that the nation could be certified polio-free in the near future.

According to health care professionals, poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5 per cent of cases, there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move.

The weakness most often involves the legs but may less commonly involve the muscles of the head, neck and diaphragm. Many but not all people fully recover. In those with muscle weakness, about two per cent to five per cent of children and 15 per cent to 30 per cent of adults die.

Experts say poliovirus is usually spread from person to person through infected faecal matter entering the mouth. It may also be spread by food or water containing human faeces and less commonly from infected saliva.

Fourty-five-year-old Margaret Adiyo, paralysed in one leg expresses her sadness at what the lack of knowledge cost her. “Who knows, I may not have been in this condition if my parents were given the right orientation years back. They didn’t know, I was carried from one traditional home to another. It was only some years ago that I became knowledgeable enough to understand that my partial paralysis is as a result of polio. This could have been prevented, but I am happy that more children will not have to go through what I did as the word is really spreading but we must spread it the more.”

It has been established over the years, since the first polio vaccine was developed in the 1950s by Jonas Salk, that the disease is preventable with vaccination. Though, a number of doses are required for it to be effective but how well have this message of vaccination been spread? How vigorous is the sensitisation for the immunisation of children against the dreadful polio virus?

It is to this effect that members of the Rotary club nationwide took to the streets to sensitise the country further. In Abuja, over 5,000 Rotarians, volunteers, celebrities and guests took a two-kilometre walk from the old parade ground in Abuja to mark the World Polio Day.

Also in Ibadan, hundreds of Rotarians in collaboration with the Oyo State government flagged off the celebration of the day with a vaccination section at the Ibadan North West Local Government Clinic before embarking on a procession from Mokola, Ibadan with some polio survivors to the Sports Complex at Adamasingba for other sporting events including para soccer, basket ball on wheels and a variety of others.

While commemorating the day, the NC/CEO of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu in a statement issued reflected on the hard work that had gone into ensuring that Nigeria becomes polio-free in 2017 before the set back was recorded in the North East.

He also reiterated the commitment of the Federal Government and all stakeholders towards ensuring that Nigeria will attain the status of being polio-free in the nearest future.

“The commitment of our government, people and partners will not be broken. This time, we are pushing further into those areas that have been previously inaccessible by security challenges. We are determined to reach every child with the Polio vaccine.

“As Nigeria’s National Public Health Institution, the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control is working with our colleagues at the National Primary Health Care Development Agency to continuously improve response activities.

“We know that vaccines work and will continue to work with partners to ensure our citizens continue to trust and participate in the immunisation exercises. We also know that our surveillance needs to be stronger; and this is why we work day in day out to strengthen our surveillance systems, by taking disease detection closer to our citizens.”

According to WHO, Nigeria has made remarkable progress against polio, but “continued vigilance is needed to protect these gains and ensure that polio does not return. Immunisation and surveillance activities must continue to rapidly detect a potential re-introduction or re-emergence of the virus.

“Eradicating polio will be one of the greatest achievements in human history. It will have a positive impact on global health for generations to come. Nigeria has brought the world one major step closer to achieving this goal and it’s critical that we seize this opportunity to end polio for good and ensure future generations of children are free from this devastating disease.”