By Onche Odeh
It has been three years since any new case of wild polio virus was reported in Nigeria, meaning it has been eradicated in the country.
Gladdening as this may feel, public health institutions in the country are, however, not carried away by what the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib has described as “cautious euphoria”.
In a Press Conference to announce progress made in the journey towards eradicating polio, Dr Faisal Shuaib disclosed that Nigeria underwent the three-year benchmark without a single wild polio virus case.
Although he said this is a step forward to certifying the entire African region wild poliovirus-free, he cautioned that the achievement is still a very fragile “one which we must delicately manage with cautious euphoria”
For decades, Nigeria was in the spotlight as a major threat to global efforts tpo halt polio virus infection and transmission. Today, the country has left Pakistan and Afghanistan behind in the race to halt polio spread. The two countries have reported three times more cases of wild polio virus this year, making them the only countries where it still circulates.
Achieving this milestone, according to head of Nigeria’s primary health care agency would certainly not have been possible without novel strategies adopted. This combines the fight against polio and other vaccine preventable diseases.
World Health Organization Officer in Charge (OIC) for Nigeria, Dr. Peter Clement acknowledged the efforts of Government of Nigeria, partners and the thousands of polio workers over the past three decades that has brought the wild polio virus count to zero.
“Since the last outbreak of wild polio in 2016 in the northeast, Nigeria has strengthened supplementary immunisation activities and routine immunization, implemented innovative strategies to vaccinate hard-to-reach children and improved acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and environmental surveillance. These efforts are all highly commendable.” Clement said.
Despite the significant progress, WHO is concerned that ending all forms of polio across the region remains an unfinished success story. Low immunisation rates pose a major risk to other forms of polio virus outbreaks; furthermore, inaccessibility to some children pose as a major threat to sustaining recent gains.
High routine immunization coverage and quality surveillance remain most critical in the build up towards certification and post certification. “As long as polio virus still exists in any part of the world (as it currently does in Afghanistan and Pakistan), all children are at risk, therefore we must maintain the momentum towards regional and global certification,” stated Dr Clement.
Following the Nigeria three-year mark, the Africa Regional Commission for Certification of Polio Eradication (ARCC) will begin a rigorous process to confirm if each country in the region is wild polio-free. Nigeria is expected to submit its final country data for evaluation in March 2020, provided there are no new wild polio cases. If the data confirms zero cases, the entire WHO AFRO region may receive wild polio-free certification as soon as mid-2020, leaving only one region out of six around the world (the Eastern Mediterranean region) where wild polio virus still exists.
The drive to eradicate polio was based on a cheap, effective oral vaccine containing three strains of live, weakened polio virus.