Making every child count on World Polio Day

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BY SOLA OGUNDIPE
TODAY is World Polio Day. It is a day set aside globally to  assess the significance and success of the oral polio vaccine, OPV. It is also a day the world spotlights the importance of global eradication of polio.

Today and all through the week of World Polio Day, polio-affected countries in Africa and Asia are planning to vaccinate  more  than 80 million children. Thanks to the OPV,  most children born today live free of the threat of polio, but the  entire world must remain committed to  polio eradication now, more than ever.

Polio remains endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Nigeria is on the last lap towards polio eradication and even though there has been tremendous progress over the past two years, the battle is far from over.

Nigeria will have to reach every last child to be able to stop the transmission of the wild polio virus. Photo: Courtesy UNICEF.

Nigeria is still one of the most entrenched reservoirs of wild poliovirus in the world. It is the only country with ongoing transmission of all three serotypes: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. Up to a 99 percent decline in overall cases were reported in 2010.

To date, more than 45 new cases have been reported in sic states this  year.   The Expert Review Committee for Polio Eradication and Routine Immunisation (ERC) recommends that a way to bring the polio eradication programme back on track, requires an urgent programme of work to identify, characterise and target chronically missed children; sustain an intensive OPV campaign schedule through 2012; establish a federal-level accountability framework for LGA Chairmen and Ward Heads in very high priority areas; and focus geographically on the three key transmission zones (Ka no/Jigawa, Kebbi/Sokoto/Zamfara and Borno).

Federal authorities have established an emergency task force, culminating in the signing of the Abuja Commitments to Polio Eradication by state Governors in February 2009.   Sultan of Sokoto also established a ‘National Task Team of Northern Traditional Leaders’ to address the situation.

Experts say interrupting the remaining poliovirus transmission in Nigeria requires institutionalising the raised supplementary immunisation coverage in the northern states. Particular attention will be given to identifying the highest-risk districts and to ensure that district chairpersons are engaged and accountable for performance of supplementary immunisation activities.

Other strategies include scaling-up international technical support to intensify eradication activities, expanding social mobilisation and communications capacity, implementing nationwide ‘Immunis ation Plus Days’ to maintain the high levels of population immunity needed to reduce the risk of outbreaks following importations into the polio-free areas of the country.

Bivalent oral polio vaccine is anticipated to be used extensively in the SNID activities, as a complement to the use of trivalent oral polio vaccine.

Eradication targets

End–2011:  More than 80 percent  of children with at least three doses of oral polio vaccine (per non-polio acute flaccid paralysis data) in each of the 12 high-risk states (including the eight persistent transmission states).

End–2012: At least 90 percent  of children with more than three doses of oral polio vaccine in all states.

 

We must step up commitment towards eradicating polio – Amaechi
By Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

OVer the last few years, Nigeria has made significant progress toward eradicating polio, a devastating disease that continues to threaten our children with lifelong paralysis and even death.

We once struggled to contain the disease, reporting 799 cases in 2008 alone. Yet, thanks to commitment from leaders across all levels, cases dropped by 95 percent from 2009 to 2010, a remarkable sign of progress for Nigeria and the global polio campaign.

Rotimi Amaechi, Rivers State Governor

But on this World Polio Day, we are at a crossroads and our hard won progress is at serious risk. So far in 2011, Nigeria has avoided major polio outbreaks but the country has nevertheless counted more than four times the number of polio cases as this time last year. We need to take urgent action as a nation to stop polio now.

An increase in cases this year is alarming and due in part to declining political oversight at a critical juncture and the inadequate implementation of emergency plans in key infected areas.

If we are committed to eliminating this crippling disease, we cannot continue on the same course. Urgent action must be taken to ensure that reaching the chronically missed children is everyone’s priority so that polio does not resurge in our communities.

Recent advances give me confidence that Nigeria can end this disease. Our leaders have strengthened their resolve to eliminate polio, including commitments from all 36 State Governors and the leaders of the Federal Capital Territory to personally participate in quarterly Polio Awareness Days.

The first of these took place on August 13, and it was followed by a visit to Nigeria from Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee.

Rotary International has been a global champion for polio eradication, and during Mr. Banarjee’s visit, we agreed that polio eradication must remain one of the topmost priorities.

A month later, during a visit by philanthropist Bill Gates, President Goodluck Jonathan pledged to end polio in Nigeria within the next two years. In addition, the Vice President and I led state governors in a re-confirmation of the Abuja Commitments, pledging to reach at least 90 percent of children with polio vaccines with the goal of wiping out polio from the country and improving routine immunisation.

These steps will help move Nigeria, and the world, closer than ever to eradicating this crippling disease. Today, with the help of partners around the world, global polio cases have decreased by 99 per cent, with fewer than 1,500 cases  last year. We are close making polio only the second disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated.

But recent progress alone will not get us to our goal. To achieve success, Nigeria and the broader global community must step up its commitment even further.

In Nigeria, we must do our part by strengthening efforts to protect our children against this disease. All Governors must increase their personal involvement in and oversight of eradication efforts within their states. We must ensure that all children, including those in migrant families and in hard to reach areas, receive the vaccines they need to be protected. We also need stronger vaccination campaigns and improved surveillance systems to track and detect the spread of poliovirus.

And finally, parents need to be ready to accept the vaccine. Non-compliance is an acute problem in some areas of the country and we need to win their trust if their children are to be protected from polio. If there are weaknesses in any of these areas, we will not succeed in eradicating this disease.

Globally, we must join with others to give polio the attention it needs. Later this week, our leaders will meet with others in Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, where polio eradication will receive international attention. I hope Commonwealth leaders seize the opportunity to support eradication at the necessary levels.

There are many reasons why this fight deserves our urgent attention. Polio is a persistent disease that ignores borders. Poliovirus in Nigeria has spread to countries such as Chad, Niger and Mali, showing that as long as there is polio anywhere, the threat of polio exists everywhere. We have a responsibility to our neighbors’ children as much as our own.

Polio can also spread silently; for every child who is paralyzed, another 200 children are infected with the virus and risk spreading it to others. Once polio is eradicated, we will no longer need to treat children who would have been paralyzed by the virus, allowing us to save untold numbers of naira and invest funds in other health priorities.

But no one group can finish the job alone. International partners, including Rotary International, UNICEF, WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have supported our efforts in Nigeria, and lent their leadership and funding to give children in our country and around the world the chance to be protected from polio for a lifetime. Now, it is time for other leaders to increase their commitment to help win this fight.

We have a chance to defeat polio once and for all, and it is our responsibility to show the world that we will not rest until we finish the job.

Contributed by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State who is also  Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum.

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