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On the agenda: Winning the polio war

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Polio-ChildrenMAY I use the gracious opportunity to congratulate Nigeria’s President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, and the All Progressive Congress (APC); on their victory. This is a unique and symbolic victory won through doggedness, synergy and perseverance. Congratulations Nigeria! I am very sure and hopeful this is victory for all of us.

It is victory for economic revival, victory against corruption and all its associated ills and victory against terrorism, kidnapping and all sorts of violent and criminal activities. Above all, it is victory against polio and victory for persons living with disability due to polio infection.

You may wonder what is the relationship between my topic and the salutation in the opening paragraph? Is there any correlation between winning the war against polio in Nigeria and political leadership? O yes! The type of leadership we have has direct consequence on our goals, dreams and aspirations, particularly in the area of polio eradication and polio-free certification.

Because of this fundamental truth, in 2010, I wrote an article titled Health Minister and Polio Eradication in Nigeria and in 2011, I did another article and an open letter to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan under the topic, Jonathan and the $60m Polio Fund. Other articles that I have written that involve leadership include Lagos and Polio: Vital Lessons, Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) and Polio Eradication, Matter of Leadership, among others. The import of these articles is that they lay great emphasis on the role of leaders in achieving the lofty goal of polio eradication in Nigeria.

Polio eradication as an object of discussion, to me as a polio ambassador, is beyond interruption of wild polio cases to include rehabilitation, re-orientation and re-integration of polio survivors. And lately, the topic must significantly include polio-free certification. I wrote to challenge Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, the then Health Minister, when he was appointed in 2010. I equally wrote to challenge the outgoing President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan when he told us that he set up the $60m polio fund. I had written to compare Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF), SAN with Fredrick Delano Roosevelt FDR of United States.

What do I intend to achieve with this strong emphasis on leadership in my articles? I have worked with Governor Fashola for many years, not only to stop the spread of polio, but also to ensure dignified living for persons living with disability. Our working together has helped produce the best anti-polio campaign materials like the comic book and the animated movie. I know the import of good leadership from experience. A lazy and corrupt leader will produce and brew corrupt, indulgent and incompetent followership. This, in my own estimation, is the bane of backwardness in the accomplishment of our polio eradication crusade nationwide.

Going down memory lane, August 2009 will remain a rallying point and a significant month in polio eradication calendar in Nigeria. Earlier in the year, we had three cases of wild polio in Lagos. Because of this incident, Governor Fashola made a clarion call to all Lagosians to assist him fight the crippling disease. He didn’t assume the monopoly of knowledge. We saw his sincerity and rose as one to support him. He dispensed all the weapons in his intellectual arsenal and rid Lagos of polio despite the state’s peculiar nature. With the same passion, he took polio case to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting and the result was the popular August 8, 2009 Stakeholders’ Forum held in all the states of the federation.

Since then, polio cases have been on the decline. Also worthy of note is the Ebola challenge! We saw the combination of intellectual capacity and political willingness in the governor. And this synergy made the fierce and intimidating nature of Ebola to crumble at his feet. That is the power of good leadership!

Dear GMB, we have gone far in the battle against polio. In fact, we are in the last lap of the race. But there is still more war to fight. And if we want to be true to ourselves, the battle is fiercest now than ever. For the African region to win the polio-free certification, Nigeria must have exited endemic nation status after 12 months without a single case of wild polio case. And three years of sustained no-single case of wild polio virus, our journey for polio-free certification can begin. We are about nine months into the freedom and have 27 months to go. But sir, the danger in our present situation is that if we record any wild polio case before July 24, God forbid, we go back to the status quo. We can’t allow that to happen.

What do we do? There is a guideline by the World Health Organisation for any region that wants polio-free certification. But before I give the guideline, I want to quote the words of Governor Fashola when he met with Bill Gates and Aliko Dangote during a courtesy visit at his Lagos House office, Ikeja on November 2, 2013. “…that is one thing that I wish to work with you (referring to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Dangote Foundation), to look at how many polio survivors that are here and let them lead the campaign as a physical demonstration of what can and what could have been, in addition, of course, to doing all of the things that we really need to do”.

I wrote to the outgoing government through an article but…no response. I do sincerely hope that when the new government is composed, Fashola’s counsel will be reconsidered in the formation of the Team Against Polio.

Here is the summary of the guidelines:
1. Achieving certification-standard surveillance in endemic regions:
Achieve and sustain certification standard surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) at the national level;
Identify and close any gaps in surveillance performance at the sub-national level in all countries ;
To increase the speed of surveillance and virology data analysis to ensure timely emergency response.

2. Ensuring access to a WHO-accredited laboratory
Reduce the time required for intra-typic differentiation (ITD) results to be available from endemic areas
ITD capacity established in all polio reservoir countries
To sustain the international capacity to process all specimens from AFP cases in WHO-accredited laboratories through global certification and oral polio vaccine (OPV) cessation.

3. Ensuring containment of wild polioviruses and vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPVs)
Further dissemination and national implementation of activities outlined in the global action plan for laboratory containment of wild polio viruses 2003
Complete laboratory survey and inventory activities in all polio-free countries
Prepare for implementation of phase II laboratory containment activities prior to global certification
Initiate phase II containment activities in all countries
Complete bio-safety level-3 (BSL-3)/polio containment in facilities producing IPV from wild poliovirus.

4. Completing the certification process
Regional certification commissions (RCC) in the remaining three polio-endemic regions to train national certification commissions (NCC)
NCCs to collect, review and decide on the national documentation through consultations.

How do we fight polio? We talk! We talk about its wickedness. Our work is basically advocacy. We tell our story not to elicit pity for ourselves, but to want parents, caregivers, guidance, friends and families safeguard and protect their loved ones from the grip of this monster called poliomyelitis.

Our President-elect should seek out men with proven integrity who have passion for polio eradication (as advised by BRF) to champion this cause. Let these men and women be carefully chosen based on their contributions in the past from the 36 states of the federation. Let the mandate of this committee be to prepare us for (i) exiting of the endemic nation status and (ii) preparing us for WHO’s polio-free certification by August 2017 after 36 months of our sustained wild polio free status.

•Kuye, a polio survivor, Lagos Polio Ambassador and producer of the first indigenous animated anti-polio movie, The Polio, and co-ordinator of Polio Rescue Association; wrote via poliorescue@yahoo.com


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