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Cautious optimism as Nigeria marks one year without polio

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Polio-ChildrenNOTWITHSTANDING warnings by experts and donor agencies that the country may not be certified until 2017, Nigeria would tomorrow be successfully marking one year without polio.

However, President, Nigerian Academy of Science and Chairman Expert Review Committee on Polio Eradication and Routine Immunization, Oyewale Tomori yesterday in an interview with The Guardian warned against complacency.

Even with this cautious stance, Nigerian officials have been congratulating themselves for this triumph over polio.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday at the International Conference on Africa’s Fight Against Ebola in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, announced a donation of $1million (N220 million) for the elimination of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in recovery and reconstruction.

Buhari, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Linus Awute, said that Nigeria couldn’t celebrate yet after sharing their 2014 ordeal and how the deadly virus was contained.

Buhari pointed out the fact that, “We are not yet celebrating the end of Ebola in Nigeria until this disease is totally eliminated from the West African region where it harbors itself right now. This is because the presence of the EVD in one country remains a threat to another, meeting this challenge is crucial to us right now, as we remain committed to support all efforts of the African Union in this fight.

Tomori said: “This month, July was a very auspicious month for Nigeria in 2014 as two health related occurrences took place in that month.

On Sunday July 20 2014, Patrick Sawyer flew into Lagos airport, a sick man with Ebola Virus Disease. He died five days later, but not before infecting other people–his primary contacts-health workers who took care of him and who subsequently infected other people. By the time Nigeria was finally declared free of the disease, 20 people had been infected with eight of them dying from the disease, and three months spent tracing nearly 900 contacts.

The second health issue occurred far away from Lagos. “On July 24, 2014, a day before Patrick Sawyer died, a one year old child in Sumaila Local Council of Kano State had an onset of a disease later confirmed to be polio. That has been the last polio case confirmed in Nigeria for the past one year and never before had Nigeria gone on for 12 months without reporting at least one case.

The last time we went free of polio was for only 3 months between May and July 2014. If we get our acts together and maintain zero polio case until the end of July 2015, the Nigeria will be removed from the list of polio endemic countries, that is, countries that have never interrupted polio transmission.

Tomori added, “Do not expect WHO to remove our country from the ignoble list of polio endemic countries, until another late August or early September 2015, by which time all of the samples collected on or before 24 July this year, would have been tested and found negative for polio. Delisting from polio endemic countries is only a step towards Nigeria being declared a polio free nation. This will only happen if we report no polio case for another 2 years, that is, after July 2017. So let us not bring out the drums and the palm wine tumblers in premature celebrations.”

He called for sustained and real commitment for polio eradication and routine immunization at all levels of government.

According to Tomori, unless this happens, there is no guaranteed that we can keep polio out of Nigeria in the next 2 years to attain the polio free status.

On its part, the International Monitoring Board (IMB) has released a new report cautioning Nigeria on the growing impression among its politicians that polio is gone out of the country. The Board has therefore made it absolutely clear that Nigeria has not yet been certified polio-free.


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