Sustaining the polio-free status
FOR a very good reason, Nigeria caught the attention of the world the other day when the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed the country from the list of polio-endemic countries. But while the celebration is worthwhile, the Nigerian government and other stakeholders must take cognisance of the fact that a greater challenge lies ahead, which is the task of the country sustaining that status of a polio-free country.
The global health body arrived at the decision of declaring Nigeria polio-free after observing that for over a year, between July 24, 2014 and October 2015, no single case of polio was recorded in the country. Yet, just in 2012, more than half of all polio cases worldwide were recorded in Nigeria. This was when Nigeria was in the league of polio-endemic countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. This year, while no case of polio has been found in Nigeria, 41 cases have been reported worldwide, with 32 being in Pakistan and nine in Afghanistan. The Nigerian government at all levels, their health officials and the more than 200,000 volunteers across the country who immunised more than 45 million children under the age of five deserve commendation for successfully overcoming this paralysing disease.
To avert a fresh onslaught of the disease and sustain Nigeria’s new status, the government must encourage all stakeholders not to relax the tempo of the campaign against the disease. The involvement of innovative approaches targeted at creating awareness about the disease through community involvement and the establishment of emergency operations centres at the national and state levels must be sustained.
In view of the enormous resources needed to combat the scourge, Nigeria alone would not have been able to fight the disease. Thus the government must continue to encourage donors and development partners to contribute to the country’s campaign. While Nigeria owes a debt of gratitude to WHO, Rotary International, the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, stakeholders in the country must be more concerned now about checking the re-introduction of the disease in the country. They must not wait for outside help to solve their health problems.
The Federal Government should continue to engage the state governments whose cooperation has led to the defeat of polio. Obviously, special attention must be given to the northern states where the disease was rampant but where there was so much opposition to vaccination. Parents, traditional rulers and religious leaders should be encouraged to understand that more efforts should be made to avert fresh cases of the disease in their communities. In this regard, government at all levels should make funds available for vaccination rounds.
It is commendable that President Muhammadu Buhari has set the tone in this regard by directing the Federal Ministry of Finance to provide for the basic health care fund in the 2016 budget appropriation. The Federal Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) should be at the forefront of the anti-polio campaign. It is expected that state governments would take their
cue from the Federal Government and give the desired priority to the health of children who are vulnerable to polio. Very importantly, government at all levels must avoid diverting funds meant for fighting polio under the illusion that a final victory has been won over the disease.
Clearly, the country’s victory over polio has shown that when there is a firm commitment of the government and the people to fighting any threat to the well-being of the citizens, the desired breakthrough is assured. For before this victory was achieved, the government had to deploy huge resources and overcome daunting opposition posed by stakeholders who did not accept the measures to tackle the disease. Therefore, to sustain the gains of the campaign against polio, Nigeria must continue its vigilance.
This is an objective that can be realised through unrelenting surveillance and immunisation to facilitate an early detection of a potential re-emergence of the disease. Indeed, Nigeria must move from polio-interruption to eradication and thereby join other countries in ensuring that the world is completely rid of the disease. Nigeria must not disappoint those celebrating with it now over its polio-free status.