Nigeria to go through rigorous process to be certified polio-free — WHO, EU

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Union (EU), have declared that Nigeria would go through a very rigorous process in the next six months for Africa to be certified polio free.

For Africa to be certified polio free, Nigeria must be certified free, and having celebrated a long three years without any report of polio infection in any part of the country, the feat must be evaluated and validated by the world body.

Nigeria celebrated three-year of polio free infection last week, but the Immunization Team Leader, WHO Nigeria, Dr. Fiona Braka, said the job is not done yet.

Dr. Fiona spoke with Nigerian Tribune at the End of Project Dissemination Seminar, with a theme: “Improving Immunization Governance,” organised by the EU and the National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHCDA) on the EU Support to Immunization Governance in Nigeria.

She said: “I also want to make it very clear that the job is not yet done. We have just reached a milestone recognizing that there has not been a case for the last three years but there is now a process to validate that; to evaluate whether indeed Nigeria has achieved that interruption and that Africa is worthy of certification.

“So, over the next six months, we will go through a rigorous process and hopefully in the course of next year, it is possible that Africa could be certified polio free.”

While acknowledging that Nigeria has reached that milestone in the last three year, she gave credence to the contribution of the EU, who had supported the efforts with over $200 million in the past 11 years, as well as other partners and commended the leadership of Nigerian Government for their efforts.

Dr. Fiona said: “The support from EU to the Government of Nigeria has greatly impacted on the success that we have  seen with the polio eradication programme. Through WHO, the EU provided a grant in 2011 and 2016 to support the polio eradication initiative and subsequently renewed that support in 2017 that we ran for four years.”

She pointed out that with that support, the WHO was able to work closely with the government to address the constraints faced with the eradication of polio, adding that campaigns were able to be implemented in areas where immunity is needed to be boosted and in high risk states to reach children with polio vaccines to interrupt the virus transmission.

“We have been able to reach extremely difficult places, hard to reach places due to different reasons with the support that have been provided; and because of that, we are witnessing a milestone in Nigeria today. We have now marked three years without polio virus case in Nigeria.”

Also, the Head of European Union Delegation to Nigeria and to the ECOWAS, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, describe this as a wonderful achievement, adding that the EU has provided very long and consistent support for the health sector in Nigeria.

Ambassador Karlsen said the EU had also provided $200 million since 2002, saying that 17 years non-stop, the EU has partnered with Nigeria Authorities, the civil societies, the state governors because there are significant challenge.

On the end of the project, he said: “I think that we cover this first road, we want to look at the result. What can we do differently? What can we do better? We are doing it with mixed feelings in the sense that only yesterday, we could have that marvelous celebration of three years without new cases of polio in Nigeria.

“That is a wonderful achievement and it is only possible due to the collaboration of a number of support; of course from the Federal Government, state governments and also the civil societies and a number of international Organisation including WHO.”

The Director, Disease Control and Immunization, NPHCDA, Joseph Otiri, also said the EU support has impacted greatly on the health situation in Nigeria.

He said: “The EU project has impacted significantly on the health situation in Nigeria. You recall that just yesterday, we celebrated three years free status and non of this would have been achieved without collaboration and the EU support and supports from other partners.”

Otiri pointed out that before the EU projects started, “we are covering just six states which they expanded to 23 states. They have contributed immensely to where we are. Immunization coverage has gone up from the 30% of children in 2016 to over 50% this year.”