By Joseph Erunke
ABUJA-THE federal government has said Nigeria was still being threatened despite the certification of the country polio-free by the World Health Organisation, WHO.
Government said the country was still under threat given the active presence of the disease in the Asian region and the menace of the circulating vaccine derived polio virus which it noted, “remains in our continent.”
To this end,it tasked that “our surveillance system must remain sensitive and up to the certification standard.”
Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire,speaking in Abuja,said,”The National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) will continue to be active, to respond promptly to any emerging disease outbreak”, just as he said “we must however, be reminded that we are not resting on our oars, because polio is not yet over for the African continent.”
” As long as the polio virus is still active in the Asian region and the menace of the circulating vaccine derived polio virus remains in our continent, our Surveillance system must remain sensitive and up to the certification standard,’he said.
According to him,”The National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) will continue to be active, to respond promptly to any emerging disease outbreak.”
He said,”The Federal Government, through NPCHDA, has mapped out various polio assets across the country and started deploying them for the purpose of other disease interventions.”
” I urge State Governors to support this effort and begin to implement the transition of the experienced polio human resources for Health, to other areas of the health sector, especially at Primary care level,”he tasked,adding that:”This new era can be the rallying point for progress and development of Health on the African continent and our country.”
The minister’s keynote address he presented at an occasion organised to mark the eradication of the disease in the country, read in part:”We have marked the very significant milestone in the health sector, when the African Region of the World Health Organization received the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication from the African Regional Commission Committee (ARCC).
“The ARCC, as we know, is an independent body of public health experts, appointed by the World Health Organization to review the documentation and assess evidence presented by Nigeria, to support our claim of the complete absence of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) circulation in our country.
“The Committee has declared and certified Nigeria and, ultimately the African Region, to be wild-polio-virus-free, after thorough analysis and verification of the documentation we submitted.
“Poliomyelitis is a debilitating disease caused by the polio virus, which has afflicted children globally in their thousands, including our nationals, and resulted in illness, lifetime physical disabilities and sometimes loss of life.
“Today has unfortunately come too late for all those who have paid the price or suffered any form of disability, since the coordinated fight against polio started over three decades ago; but for the millions of us and our children who have been protected from the scourge of this disease, this is a day to celebrate, as I congratulate all Nigerians on this historic moment.
“This achievement was made possible by the strong commitment of the President of the Federal Republic and of Federal, State and Local Governments, with the support of Development Partners, Sponsors and Donors, Traditional, Religious and Community leaders, and not the least, thousands of National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) staff and gallant frontline health workers, who moved from house to house, community to community, vaccinating children, sometimes under difficult and daunting circumstances.
“I therefore start by recognizing those who made sacrifices during the trying times and helped us to demonstrate that great things can be done when there is a will and we come together as a people for a common purpose.
“Declaring Nigeria as a polio virus free state is particularly significant for us, coming at a time when we are on the threshold of fostering an evolution in the health sector, built on the revelations and opportunities provided by the COVID-19 outbreak and inspired by the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Along with smallpox, WPV would be the second successful eradication of a virus disease from Nigeria in the past forty years.
“This gives us the confidence that if we deploy lessons learnt and use the tools and management structures acquired, we can build and strengthen our Primary Health Care network to sustain the tempo and gains for the broader aspiration for our health sector, which is to wipe out other vaccine preventable diseases.
“This journey that started in 1988 and has finally taken us to where we are today, has been long, laborious and costly. There have also been tragic moments, when some of our health worker colleagues paid with their lives, and others barely got away with various degrees of injuries, some ending in permanent disability.
“May they, who are the true heroes of the war against this disease, rest in peace. The loved ones they left behind will today share the credit of winning the war against polio and be assured that their sacrifices were not in vain.
“The course of this war has been tedious for two main reasons: first because, to defeat polio, we had to first defeat fear, doubt, scepticism, suspicion, false rumours, campaigns of disinformation, all of which were planted by detractors of all types. To the rescue came men and women who supported us with their whole heart, to shore up confidence and public acceptance of the polio program. ”
According to him,”The other reason why the struggle against polio took this long was the location the virus chose as its last refuge in Nigeria; the war torn North East, where insecurity made access to health workers a risky venture that cost several public Health vaccinators their lives.”
“Routine health care and infrastructure had collapsed and along with them, all immunization efforts. The dilemma being how to reach the unreachable, the President graciously ordered the engagement of the Armed Forces in the war against polio, a critical and unique partnership, which has generated global interest,” he noted.