Interruption of transmission in Nigeria has opened door for polio-free Africa, says WHO
THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has described Nigeria’s recent efforts to exit the world’s list of endemic countries with active wild poliovirus.
WHO is also optimistic that since Nigeria had not recorded any new case of polio since July last year, the tendency of possibility of sustaining the feat was high.
After reviewing the 29th Expert Review Committee (ERC) held by stakeholders in Abuja on Tuesday, the world body stressed that if Nigeria sustains the tempo till next July, then it would be on track to being declared polio free in the nearest future.
Director of Polio in WHO, Dr. Hamid Jafari, who attended the Abuja meeting said in a statement yesterday: “Progress in Nigeria has opened the door for a polio free Africa”.
After the two (2) days meeting, the World Health Organization has confirmed the progress made by the Expert Review Committee that Nigeria will be free from the wild polio virus.
According to the WHO, “For that to happen, the ERC which acknowledged the various innovations being applied to address challenges, strongly endorsed that the country ‘sustains the hard fought gains and address the risks that threaten interruption of WPV transmission’.
The listed threats include: complacency, performance gaps in Kano, insecurity/inaccessibility and diversion of attention with impending general elections. The ERC therefore recommended among others that Nigeria must crush the cVDPV2 in the second quarter of 2015; implement high quality Supplemental Immunization
Activities schedule, with targeted expansion of innovations such as the Directly Observed Polio Vaccination, health camps as well as vaccination in markets and transit points.”
The Expert Review Committee (ERC) on Polio and Routine Immunization had in attendance senior representatives from the WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Rotary, the Department for International Development (DFID, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), United States Agency for International Development (USAID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the European Union (EU).
Speaking at the 29th meeting of the Expert Review Committee on Routine Immunization held in Abuja on Tuesday, Country Representative of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Dr. Jean Gough, had stressed how Nigeria was on track to eradicating polio by 2017.
Sakai said: “We still have three more years to go to ensure certification, if these years, we don’t have more cases of polio. So, we are on a good track. But, we are not there yet. I think we need to continue motivating all the community workers, the traditional leaders, the politicians to continue their efforts because the goal is possible.”
The UNICEF stressed that vaccination should not be only against polio, but against all forms of communicable diseases to help reduce mortality. She urged politicians to support the efforts.
Chairman of the Expert Review Committee, Prof Oyewale Tomori, said: “The recent information which has been misinterpreted by the generality of Nigerians that Nigeria will be declared free of polio is not correct. The issue is that, according to WHO regulation, we need to be totally free of polio for three years before we are declared polio free. I think that is what is what we want to achieve. Polio transmission is just a step in the way. Polio eradication is what we are looking for. That will require us to sustain no polio for the next three years.”
He called for the strengthening of surveillance, noting that Nigeria had not done very well in that regard.
His words: “The issue of the fact is that we are having what we call compatible polio cases, which means that our surveillance has not gone very well. We need to improve on our surveillance to ensure that such compatible cases do not occur.”
Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency
(NPHCDA), Dr Ado Mohammad, gave further insights in the national efforts to eradicate polio.
He assured that his agency would work with WHO to heighten surveillance, especially in this last lap of the eradication phase and leverage polio support to broader public health goals.
His words: “When we compare that with 2013, it is about 89 percent reduction in cases of our polio virus in Nigeria. So far, the last case of wild polio virus in Nigeria was reported on 24 July 2014, making it six months without any case of wild polio virus in Nigeria.
“What it means is that no child has been paralyzed by wild polio virus in Nigeria for six months. And, we are already counting days to interrupt wild polio virus in Nigeria by July 24, 2015, which will be one year, if a case of wild polio virus is not reported in Nigeria. What it means is that Nigeria would have interrupted wild polio virus transmission.”
He went on: “And, then, two years later, we would achieve certification. So, we have made a lot of progress. This meeting is to carefully review the progress we have. made, identify other areas we can further fine-tune and to improve on the gains we have made.
“Let’s also not forget that of all polio-endemic countries, Nigeria has made much more progress than any of these countries. As at the last count, Afghanistan recorded 32 cases of wild polio virus, Pakistan recorded 237 cases of wild polio virus, with Nigeria reported only few cases of wild polio virus. So, the world is looking up to Nigeria as the next country to exit as polio-endemic country.
“This is not just by chance. This is the result of hard work put in by the programme.
As we talk of polio, let’s not forget that polio and immunization must go together. If you make gain in polio without maintaining routine immunization, you cannot sustain that gain. This is the first time in this country that routine immunization is working and working very well.
“We have been able to move routine immunization coverage from 52 per cent two years ago to remarkable and commendable level of 91 per cent national average administrative coverage by the end of 2014.What it means is that 31 per cent of children that are eligible are being reached by safe vaccines.”
He stressed the need for election not to become a distraction to polio programme.
Chairman, Rotary Polio Plus Committee in Nigeria, Dr Tunji Funso, stressed the need to close gaps towards eradication.
He said: “One of the important things is to avoid complacence. We know we have done very well. We patted ourselves on the back. But things usually can go wrong. We had got almost this close before in 2010 when we had reduced all cases phenomenally by almost eighty per cent.
“But, now, we have gone further than that. We have reduced by 90 per cent. So one of the things we are going to do is that we are not complacent. We want to build on the strength of what we have done.
“We also want to ensure that those things that still need to be done, particularly the challenge of having to reach children in the security-challenged areas, either because of access or because they are now IDPs, (Internally Displaced Persons), where we can reach them. These are strategies that we never had before. We are developing strategies to ensure that all children in IDPs are reached.”