By Hassan Zaggi
The journey to achieving polio free status by Nigeria was a long and arduous one, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisail Shuaib, has said.
He made the disclosure in a statement signed by the Head, Public Relations Unit of the NPHCDA, Mohammad Ohitoto, in Abuja, Tuesday.
He stressed that the process running to the certification was a “long and arduous journey, with great efforts and investment from government, donors, local and international partners such as Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, WHO, Unicef, CDC, USAID, Gavi, EU, Global Affairs Canada, DFID, World Bank, JICA, KfW, the Nigeria Governors Forum, to mention a few.”
Shuaib, however, noted that the major problem the polio eradication effort faced was insecurity, which “slowed our achieving polio eradication.”
He explained that the polio programme was able to surmount this problem and others through the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, the Polio Emergency Operation Centers (EOC), the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Polio Eradication led by His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, increasing demand for health services by ensuring the buy in of communities, the innovative use of technology including GIS, use of mobile phones for AVADAR – the Auto visual AFP Detection and Response application and the use VTS tracking of vaccinators “to ensure that vaccinators were actually going to where they were supposed to, to make sure that no child was left behind, even in the most difficult and hard to reach areas.”
Dr. Shuaib recalled that the Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication, an independent body of experts charged with reviewing data and determining the wild polio-free status of all 47 countries in Africa, commenced the certification process in August 2019, following the country’s achievement of three years without any case of the wild polio virus.
The ARCC , he said, visited Nigeria in December 2019 and March 2020, for the mandatory field verification process necessary to declare the country wild polio-free.
It was upon completion of the visit that the body accepted the country’s complete documentation claiming wild polio virus free status on 18 June 2020, thereby paving the way for the certification.
Dr. Shuaib, however, ascribed the achievement to the leadership provided by Mr President, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, traditional and religious leaders, local and international partners, all health workers and the Nigerian populace.
He dedicated the certification to the memory of all those who lost their lives in the cause of polio eradication, describing them as Polio Heroes.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF), have jointly congratulated Nigeria on being declared free of the wild poliovirus.
Both bodies, however, stressed that achieving this milestone is not the end of the job – all children under five years must continue to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
In a statement in Abuja, Tuesday, the WHO and UNICEF, said this is critical to significantly reduce avoidable mortality in Nigerian children under 5 years old, keep polio permanently out of Nigeria, and ensure better health and well being for future generations.
Dr Walter Kazadi Mulumbo, WHO Nigeria Country Representative, said, “WHO rejoices with the people and government of Nigeria and acknowledges that wild polio-free certification is undoubtedly the greatest public health triumph in the annals of Nigeria and indeed Africa that will bequeath to posterity lessons learnt and best practices for addressing future public health interventions.
“This milestone is a clarion call to urgently rededicate resources to stopping the transmission of all types of poliovirus, strengthening routine immunization to sustain the gains achieved – especially in high risk areas and traditional polio sanctuaries – and maintaining high quality surveillance.’’
On his part, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said: “This historic achievement not only signifies the end of the wild poliovirus across the entire African continent, but is also a significant springboard towards attaining global polio eradication.
“UNICEF joins Nigeria in celebrating this milestone – and congratulating Nigeria’s children, especially – but we must remember that the job is not over.
“All caregivers must continue to vaccinate their children against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, including polio. Religious and community leaders, as champions of wild poliovirus eradication, should continue to mobilize caregivers to vaccinate their children for all preventable diseases. Children need their help now more than ever.’’