By Sola Ogundipe, Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale

About 15 years ago, the impression around the world was that Nigeria, the giant of Africa would be the last country to eradicate polio, the reason being that it had with high burden of the disease at that time.

Statistics showed that Nigeria was a reservoir for the wild polio virus, in addition to having one of the highest burdens and transmission rates of polio.
But today, Nigeria is on a run. The giant of Africa has found its rhythm as a killer of giant killer diseases.

File photo; A polio vaccinator vaccinating a child

It has eliminated guinea worm, stopped Ebola in its tracks and successfully defeated one of the world’s most debilitating diseases – poliomyelitis. There has been no case of polio in the country over the last 14 months.

Polio is a highly infectious disorder suffered by children. It is transmitted person-to-person through food or water from where it enters the body system, breaking it down and resulting in paralysis. For the first time ever, Nigeria interrupted transmission of the wild polio virus

Just last week, World Health Organisation, WHO, removed Nigeria from the list of countries where the polio virus is endemic. This was a major victory for the nation’s polio eradication efforts, and the world has acknowledged the significance. At last, Nigeria is on the last lap to certification as a polio-free country.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries in the world where the wild polio virus is still circulating, nevertheless, the last days of polio are at hand.
Nigeria’s victory has put the world on track to ensure that polio is the second infection to be eradicated from the planet after smallpox.

Nigeria has been chasing eradication of polio for at least two decades, even as it is awaiting certification by the World Health Organisation, WHO , in 2017.

All it needs to do to maintain its current zero case status, strengthen its surveillance system, improve routine immunisation and maintain high quality campaigns.

Following introduction of the National Programme on Immunisation, NPI, a modified strategy known as Supplementary Immunisation Activities, SIA, was adopted. The nation replaced routine immunisation with Immunisation Plus Days, IPDs, during which combination of oral polio vaccine and inactivated polio vaccine are provided through house to house service delivery to improve coverage of oral polio vaccine in the hard to reach target populations with high incidence of poliomyelitis.

Challenged by a depreciating health system, insurgency, boycott of OPV, among others, Nigeria systematically strengthened its routine immunisation system, boosting population immunity in targeted age group to interrupt the importation of polio into the high risk population.

Polio eradication in Nigeria took a sinister dimension in 2003 – 2004 with a massive boycott of polio immunisation in the northern part of the country on the grounds that the oral polio vaccine was contaminated with HIV/AIDS.

Successful eradication of poliomyelitis, however, was more of improved vaccine coverage and supplementary immunisation.

In 2012 and 2013 respectively, government reactivated an emergency operations centre and implemented a national emergency action plan to eradicate polio, address anti-polio vaccination sentiment and the threat of violence, social and community mobilisation activities, engaged community leaders to become advocates for the protection of children against the contraction of polio virus.

Nigeria did make appreciable progress in polio eradication from 1998-2002 but suffered a major set-back in 2003-2004 as a result of controversy over the safety of the oral polio vaccine.

Emphasis on the importance of vaccination is a crucial tool for preventing and controlling the disease coupled with intensified eradication activities that ensured vaccination of all children with the oral polio vaccine. Nigeria implemented hundreds of rounds of enhanced supplemental immunisation activities several being national campaigns.

WHO: Polio has been eradicated in Nigeria…Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries in the world where the wild polio virus is still circulating

The government increased the number of vaccinators and declared polio as a national health emergency.

The turning point for Nigeria came in 2014, with only six polio cases recorded in the north, compared to the 53 recorded the previous year.

Nigeria’s partnership with agencies like the WHO, UNICEF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and over 200,000 volunteers made it possible for the country to win its fight against polio.

However, the reversal of intense opposition to polio vaccination through active engagement was crucial. Innovative engagement and campaigns at the community level were part of the focus of the polio eradication initiative in Nigeria.

Intensified focus on health communication at the grassroots and government taking ownership helped to maintain polio eradication as a priority.

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