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Africa on the brink of polio eradication

Posted on 5th September 2019 at 10:35am

Nigeria, the African continent’s last remaining country infected with polio, is on the brink of being declared officially polio free after it marked three years without any new cases.

Wild poliovirus is still endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, but as three years have passed since a case was reported in Nigeria, it is hoped that the country will soon be delcared 'polio free'. Image: Kateryna Kon|123rf

Polio is an infectious disease that affects children under five years old, is caused by a virus and leads to paralysis within hours. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 125 countries had polio cases in 1988 but the disease is now endemic in only two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With Nigeria’s last case of wild polio virus having been recorded on 21 August 2016, the country could potentially be declared polio-free this December for having no polio cases in more than three years. At a press conference held on August 21 in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, Faisal Shuaib who is executive director at the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said: “There is no doubt that three years without a case of wild polio virus is a historic milestone for the Polio Eradication Programme in Nigeria and the global community. Completely eradicating all types of polio virus will be one of the greatest achievements in human history.”

He urged caution, though, adding: “However, we must not take for granted our current success because it is one which we must delicately manage with cautious euphoria and resilience.”

Despite the achievement, he explained, Nigeria has not yet been declared polio-free by the WHO because of the certification process that includes a country enjoying three consecutive years without a child being paralysed by wild polio virus, evidence of quality surveillance that demonstrates this and excellent routine immunisation coverage for eligible children and high quality campaigns with oral polio vaccine. He suggests that the processes are likely to be completed between March and June 2020.

Shuaib also cautioned Nigeria against losing sight of the huge amount of work that is left before being certified polio-free by relevant global organisations including the WHO.

Factors leading to eradication

The press conference identified the factors that have led to Nigeria being on the verge of eradicating polio.

After the discovery of a case in 2016, Nigeria’s President Mohammadu Buhari ordered an immediate release of 9.8 billion naira (about US$26.7 million) to the country’s Polio Eradication Programme.

Peter Clement, the WHO officer in charge of Nigeria, said that the feat was due to renewed commitment by Nigeria, partners and the thousands of health workers over the past three decades to bring the wild polio virus count to zero.

“Since the last outbreak of wild polio in 2016 in the northeast, Nigeria has strengthened supplementary immunisation activities and routine immunisation, implemented innovative strategies to vaccinate hard-to-reach children. These efforts are all highly commendable,” Clement explained.

Abdulraham Funsho who is chairman of the National PolioPlus Committee of the Rotary International, Nigeria, attributed the feat to hard work and commitment on the part of key institutions but he also cautions against complacency, saying: “Nigeria needs to ensure we reach all children with the polio vaccine before the polio virus reaches them. The funding levels must continue and even increase before we can rejoice.”

Damaturu in Yobe state is one of the areas in Northern Nigeria that is under constant attack from the Boko Haram insurgency. Mallam Isa Yakubu, a community health attendant who works there, said the success recorded by Nigeria was because of the determination of local health workers to ensure that no child is left out of the routine immunisation programme: “At the risk of our lives, we ensure that we take the vaccines to all parts including the internally displaced people camps so that we can reach as many children as possible.”
 
This article is reproduced under a Creative Commons licence from SciDev.Net 

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