BY SOLA OGUNDIPE
EVERY Nigerian state that meets a set of specific objectives including the achievement of at least 90 percent coverage in routine polio immunisation by the end of 2012, stands to benefit from a $0.5 million (N77.50 million) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The grant will be to support top health priorities in the benefiting states including priority initiatives in public health, such as malaria and tuberculosis, improving immunisation, HIV prevention and treatment, safe drinking water and hygiene promotion.
However, only states that pass the verification by an independent monitoring system managed by the World Health Organisation will receive the grant. Performance will be assessed on a monthly and quarterly basis and results transmitted to the State Governor by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, a key partner of the foundation and the secretariat for the Challenge.
This is the indication behind a renewed commitment to end polio in Nigeria across the country even as the 36 State governors and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, have signed up to the Nigeria Immunisation Leadership Challenge launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011.
The announcement followed a visit by Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation and Jeff Raikes, during which President Goodluck Jonathan expressed his hope that Nigeria would have close to zero cases at the same time in 2012 and be finished with polio soon after.
This piece of news is perhaps one of the best developments in Nigeria’s polio eradication efforts since the country made commendable strides against the wild polio virus in 2010, followed by the appreciable dip in 2011.
The Nigeria Immunisation Challenge is an initiative that sets specific objectives that need to be met during each quarter of 2012. If met, Nigeria will significantly improve its chances of stopping polio and protecting more children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough.
In a statement issued weekend, Chief Executive Officer of the Gates Foundation, Mr. Jeff Raikes said renewed political resolve and accountability are critical to stopping polio in Nigeria. “We find it encouraging to witness both through the support expressed by every Executive Governor across the country for this initiative. By collectively signing up to this challenge, they are sending a very clear message about their commitment to lead the fight to eliminate polio in Nigeria,” he remarked.
Also speaking, Mr. A.B. Okauru, Director General, Nigeria Governors’ Forum observed that although Nigeria made great progress in 2010, reducing polio by 95 percent, the pressure was not sustained in 2011, and as a result the polio virus was able to make a comeback. “In 2012, Nigeria will need to redouble its efforts to finally get rid of this devastating disease,” he stated.
“The sooner we end polio, the sooner we can ensure that our children, and the children of the world, stop suffering from this debilitating disease,” noted Rivers State Governor, and Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, “Meeting this challenge will enable us to focus on other health priorities and also help Nigeria to join other countries that have eliminated this disease.”
Promoting polio eradication
The Challenge calls on the Executive Governor and Local Government Area (LGA) Chairmen to play a visible role in promoting polio eradication, to release funds in a timely manner for immunisation, and to work closely with Traditional Leaders to make sure no children are being left out of immunisation activities.
For a number of reasons, Nigeria is critical to stopping the spread of the wild polio virus within the West African sub-region. Perhaps more importantly, the world’s most populous nation is significant to the eradication of polio from the surface of the earth.
Nigeria is yet the only country in the world in which all three sero-types of polio viz: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3 and the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 2 are being transmitted.