By Joseph Erunke
Tuesday,August 25,2020,has no doubt,become a memorable day not just in Nigeria but also Africa as continent. For,it stands as a day the country in particular and Africa as a continent, were added to the league of countries and continents with polio-free status. Yes, it was the day Africa was certified to have eradicated wild poliovirus.
The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission,ARCC,for Polio Eradication officially declared on the day that the World Health Organization,WHO, African Region is free of wild poliovirus,thus marking the eradication of the second virus from the face of the continent since smallpox 40 years ago.
“Today is a historic day for Africa. The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio eradication (ARCC) is pleased to announce that the Region has successfully met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication, with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported in the Region for four years,” said Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, ARCC Chairperson.
In its announcement,the WHO had said Nigeria made remarkable progress against polio, but added that “continued vigilance is needed to protect these gains and ensure that polio does not return.”
Nigeria has not reported a case of wild poliovirus since 24 July 2014, and all laboratory data has confirmed that a full 12 months have passed without any new cases.
Immunization and surveillance activities must continue to rapidly detect a potential re-introduction or re-emergence of the virus, the agency said, explaining that only after three years have passed without a case of wild poliovirus on the African continent will an official ‘’certification’’ of polio eradication be conducted at the regional level in Africa.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the public-private partnership leading the effort to eradicate polio on the planet, called the development a ‘’historic achievement’’ in global health.
President Muhammadu Buhari, reacting to the development, recalled his pledge, on assuming office in 2015, to bequeath a polio-free country to his successor in due time, noting that the feat is a personal fulfilment of the promise.
He also said the polio-free status, which is coming amid the COVID-19 pandemic, further strengthens his conviction that given the right political will, the virus will be combated.
Buhari, described the achievement as a truly historic moment, ‘‘I recall that shortly after assuming office in May 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor. This certification is, therefore, personal fulfilment of that pledge to not only Nigerians but to all Africans. At a time when the global community is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that with the requisite political will, investments and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, we will flatten the epidemic curve. I can affirm the commitment of all African leaders to this course of action,” the president said in his remarks to celebrate the historic feat, assuring that Nigeria will strive to retain the polio-free status as well as leverage on lessons learnt from polio eradication to strengthen her health system, especially primary health care.
Also celebrating the feat,Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA,Dr. Faisal Shuaib, cautioned that Nigeria must not be carried away by the development,saying the country must remain vigilant even with its Polio-free status.
According to him,/ “As long as we continue to have two endemic countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan, then there’s always that potential that there could be importation of the wild polio virus to any African country, to Nigeria as it were. So, of course, that concern is there,”Shuaib said.
He expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari,business moguls, Bill Gates, Aliko Dangote and all those who variously contributed to the success of the polio eradication in Nigeria,adding,”My heartfelt gratitude goes to all the heroes and heroines of the polio eradication war. President Muhammadu Buhari for keeping his promise to Nigerians and delivering WPV free country to future generations.”
“ I am thrilled to be part of this momentous day in the life of all Nigerians. Through an incredible journey of hope, setbacks and triumph,we are finally certified as Polio-free today,’”he said as he thanked Bill Gates and Aliko Dangote whom he described as,”The two most important people who have made it possible due to their financial and technical contributions.”
While thanking the two business moguls for what he described as “their unquantifiable gift to Nigeria,”Dr. Shuaib said the exemplary leadership of His Eminence,the Sultan of Sokoto and the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Polio Eradication and Primary Health Care shone brightly during many dark days.”
“Nigeria achieving a Wild Polio Virus-free status,is significant on many fronts. I look back at the incredible leadership that has brought us here,” he said. “A journalist asked me today what the turning point was in the journey towards Polio eradication. I was taken aback because this was a journey of several decades with many twists and turns. But if I was to pick one point in time,when we finally took the turn to a final home stretch,it would have to be when the program ceded the leadership and management of the Polio program to the traditional and religious leaders. They made it happen. The exemplary leadership of His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto and the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Polio eradication made it happen,” he said in his reaction.
“ I am thrilled to be part of this momentous day in the life of all Nigerians. Through an incredible journey of hope, setbacks and triumph, we are finally certified as Polio-free today. It’s been a long, bumpy and windy road, but through it all, it took partnerships and collaboration with our donors and development partners, strong leadership from our traditional, religious and political leaders,but most importantly it took unwavering and resolute commitment of front-line workers to sort this out. The loving and nurturing parents and guardians, who built their trust in us and encouraged vaccination to continue even when it was not always easy,”he said while celebrating the success.
As the country continues celebration of the success, it is however important to say that continued vigilance is needed to protect these gains and ensure that polio does not return. The focus of authorities from now should shift to sustaining Nigeria’s new status as a Wild Polio-free nation, with necessary investments that will strengthen the primary healthcare system.