As the only African country still on the polio endemic list, and one of the three polio endemic countries globally, alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigeria is anxious of attaining polio free status by 2019.
Recall that Nigeria was declared polio free in 2014, but two years later, it experienced a major setback as four new cases of wild polio virus (WPV) was detected in Borno State, Northeast Nigeria.
However, the country has been free from WPV for two years now. Just as it is striving to attain polio free status by 2019, Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV2) was recently discovered by the world health organization (WHO) in Bauchi state.
The discovery, LEADERSHIP learnt was as a result of a monthly basis samples collected from different locations, which showed the surface of the virus.
It was gathered that the latest strain of the virus were from isolated environmental samples collected from a mosque refuse dump sites in Gwallage and the virus, WHO said is linked to the one earlier discovered in Jigawa state.
According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, three cVDPV2-positive environmental samples were reported recently, two from Yobe and one from Bauchi, and collected in August and September.
The organisation said the newly reported viruses are all linked to a cVDPV2 originating in Jigawa, adding that the same virus has also been detected in neighbouring Niger.
While this development has begin to create concerns among Nigerians, WHO has said that it is not a setback even though it is also a perquisite.
Commemorating this year’s World Polio Day, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) nearly 30 years ago, new cases of polio have dropped by more than 99.9 percent – from 350,000 cases every year in more than 125 affected countries, to 22 wild polio cases in 2017 in two affected countries.
She said the African Region has now reached an important milestone towards eradication. “it has been more than two years since the last case of wild poliovirus. I applaud the excellent efforts of governments, polio eradication partners, communities, parents and health workers in achieving this magnificent milestone.
“However, this is no time to be complacent. Until polio is eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks. As a Region, Africa can only be certified to have eradicated polio if three years have passed without any confirmed wild poliovirus, and if polio surveillance has been maintained at the level required for certification. If no new case is confirmed, and surveillance is quickly strengthened, the African Region can be certified to have eradicated polio by the end of 2019 or early 2020,” said Moeti.
Identifying inaccessibility as a major challenge, the Director General, National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHDA), Faisal Shuaib, revealed that insecurity and access Problem remain a setback to polio eradication in the country.
Blaming the security situation in the North East for the setback in the country’s polio eradication programme, Shuaib lamented that over 160,000 children were still unreached in the area.
The DG who stated this at the 35th Meeting of the Expert Review Committee (ERC) on Polio and Routine Immunization in Nigeria, held in Abuja, last year, stated that the only reason Nigeria is still categorised as a polio endemic country is due to lack of access to some Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Borno State as a result of insurgency in the region.
He expressed worry that over 160,000 children under five years, were yet to be reached with lifesaving vaccines and drugs. Adding that all efforts would be in vain if the country fails to reach all the children as it will be difficult for it to be declared polio free.
“Let’s recall that Nigeria went from 2014 to 2016 without a single case of wild polio virus. We were almost rolling out to say that Nigeria is now free from polio, then we had an outbreak in 2016.
“The only reason why Nigeria is still categorised as a polio endemic country is because we do not have access to some LGAs areas of Borno State due to insurgency. We still have access problems in LGAs like Bama, Damboa, Ngala, Jere, and Monguno.
“These LGAs have larger proportion of over 160,000 children under five years that we are trying to reach with lifesaving vaccines and drugs. Until we finish the work and reach all these kids in all the LGAs, all efforts would go down the drain, polio outbreak resurgence threat would continue and it would be difficult for us to say categorically that polio has been eradicated,” he stated.
Chairman of the committee, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, stated that the country must get rid of Boko Haram to realise her dream of becoming a polio free nation.
According to him, getting rid of Bako Haram will enable the country overcome the challenge of accessibility in some parts of the country.
“the only solution and recommendations of the ERC to making Nigeria a polio free nation is, get rid of Boko Haram and get access. Let’s get politics out of this and solve the problem.
“Until we finish the work and reach all these kids in all the LGAs, all efforts would go down the drain, polio outbreak resurgence threat would continue and it would be difficult for us to say categorically that polio has been eradicated,” said Prof. Tomori.
The minister of heath, Prof. Isaac Adewole, in an earlier interview with LEADERSHIP, also sited inaccessibility in parts of the north as a major setback adding that Nigeria should not have been declared polio free in 2014.
“for now, we’ve not detect any case in Nigeria for about two years, the last case was in July 2016 and it was a sect back. But what was actually interesting was that the president said if you search more you will find because he was concerned that a part of Nigeria was inaccessible and as a scientist, I though Nigeria should not have been declared polio free when we did.
“What we should have done is to say that part of Nigeria that was accessible is polio free and till today is polio free because those four cases came from lake Chad area where we had no access but then, we’ve worked with the military, we have a programme called the ‘reach inaccessible children’ we must have reach over 250,000 children in the compromised area, the military are helping us to create security corridors, they are also helping us to immunize and we continue to search.
“What has also happened is that under the present administration, we have flagged off the Presidential Task Force on polio, it has met severally. to demonstrate the political will, in 2016, immediately it happened, the president ordered the release of 9.7billion for polio eradication, and we are working together with international agencies to ensure that polio is eradicate not from Nigeria alone but from Africa and we are also working with countries in the lake chad region,” Adewole explained.
The Bill&Melinda Gate Foundation, one of the donors for polio eradication in the Nigeria has however expressed optimism that the country will soon be declared polio free.
Also identifying inaccessibility as a challenge, the foundation’s Country Director in Nigeria, Paulin Basinga, said a lot of kids affected with polio are trapped in areas that are not accessibility.
This was even as he revealed that the foundation has invested $35m to ensure total eradication of polio in Nigeria.
“Nigeria remain the only country in Africa that has not been declare polio free but we are getting very close to the eradication of polio. We are actually working with the federal and state government to see that polio is being eradicated from Nigeria because from the past two years there have not been a case of polio which is a very good news and which show that the effort of the government and different partners is been paid out.
“The only challenges we have now is that a lot of kids affected with polio are trapped in areas that are not accessible close to lake chad. But we are trying our possible best because this year alone we have invested $35m to ensure total eradication of polio so that we will be comfortable in declaring polio free in Nigeria.” he stated.