By Funke Ajumobi

The world close to eradicating polio – UNICEF
Recognising Nigeria’s remarkable progress against wild poliovirus, which saw the country, last month, being removed from the list of polio endemic countries, UNICEF has said it will not rest until the number of cases in the world is zero.

polioSpeaking as the world marked Polio Day, last week, Peter Crowley, head of the Polio Unit at UNICEF, said until children everywhere are immunized against polio, the threat remained with only two countries where the wild poliovirus has not been interrupted: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Crowley promised that UNICEF will not let down her guard but keep going until there is not a single child anywhere who remains unvaccinated.

Using Nigeria as an example, Crowley said just three years ago, the nation had more than half of all polio cases in the world, “but this year, Nigeria’s remarkable achievement has brought the country and the African region closer than ever to being certified polio-free.

According to him, these successes are a result of the political will and the leadership in affected countries; the strong mobilization and engagement of communities; the courage and commitment of front-line workers; and the efforts of the partners of the global polio eradication initiative – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF.

As part of its contribution to this initiative, UNICEF delivered 1.7 billion doses of vaccine in 2014 and supported the training of tens of thousands of front-line workers in communities from Karachi in Pakistan to Kano in Nigeria, helping to build trust in the vaccine among parents and communities.

Other success factors have been the integration of additional life-saving interventions for children such as routine immunization, nutrition, hand washing with soap, and breastfeeding, into polio campaigns, particularly in the most under-served and high-risk areas.
Despite this progress, Crowley said recent vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in countries like Lao-PDR, Ukraine, Guinea and Madagascar have underscored the risks that many countries continue to face due to low routine immunization coverage.

These outbreaks serve as a reminder of the vital need for intensified efforts to strengthen routine immunization systems and address disparities in children’s access to basic health services. In Ukraine, for example, fewer than 14 per cent of children are immunized against polio.

“We aim to bring a global halt to polio transmission by this time next year, but the only way to do this is for countries with low vaccination dates to re-double their efforts to reach every child, wherever they are and no matter how hard this may be”, he added.

Rotary gives $40.4 million to end virus

Meanwhile, Rotary International has given additional US$6.9 million boost to Nigeria to support immunization activities and surveillance spearheaded by the global polio eradication initiative. In total, Rotary has given $40.4 million to end polio worldwide.
According to Mr Tunji Funsho, the Chairman of Rotary’s Nigeria National Polio Plus Committee, this is the year when three became two, with the World Health Organization removing Nigeria from the list of polio-endemic countries, leaving just Afghanistan and Pakistan remaining.

With no case of wild poliovirus (WPV) reported since 24 July 2014, more than a year has passed with no samples testing positive for WPV across the entire country. He said this achievement is a tribute to the hard work of countless health care workers, traditional leaders, over 400,000 volunteers and the government who managed to turn the programme in Nigeria around by reaching over 45 million children repeatedly with polio vaccines.

Polio is on track to become the second human disease ever to be eliminated from the world (smallpox is the first) adding that Rotary has helped 194 countries stop the transmission of polio through the mass immunization of children. Funsho said as the world celebrate world polio day in a time when Nigeria has been removed from the list of polio endemic countries, there are needs to remain vigilant and ensure that all children are immunised again polio until the world is certified polio free. 

“No child is safe from the polio virus until no more polio virus exists on this planet”. He added Rotary is contributing  $26.8 million to African countries to ensure the disease never returns to the continent: Burkina Faso ($1.6 million), Cameroon ($2.7 million), Chad ($2.6 million), Democratic Republic of Congo ($499,579), Equatorial Guinea ($685,000), Kenya ($750,102), Madagascar ($562,820), Mali ($1.5 million), Niger ($3 million), Nigeria ($6.9 million), Somalia ($4.9 million) and South Sudan ($1.5 million).

Outside of Africa, Rotary also announced grants of $6.7 million for polio-endemic Pakistan, $400,000 to Iraq and $5.3 million to India. The remaining $990,542 will support immunization activities and surveillance. In total, Rotary gives $40.4 million to end polio worldwide.

Rotary provides grant funding to polio eradication initiative partners UNICEF and the World Health Organization, which work with the governments and Rotary members in polio-affected and high-risk countries to plan and carry out immunization activities.
To date, Rotary has contributed more than $1.5 billion to fight polio.

Through 2018, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match two-to-one every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication (up to $35 million a year). Currently, there have been only 41 cases of polio reported in the world in 2015, down from about 350,000 a year when the initiative launched in 1988.

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