The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has called on the federal and state governments not to relent in the campaigns and vaccination to totally eradicate the wild polio virus.
In a media chat with newsmen in Abuja, the President, Global Policy and Advocacy of the Foundation, Mark Suzman, cautioned governments not to relax until the World Health Organisation’s certificate is obtained.
Suzman explained that Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have recorded the disease, adding that the nation only had a few months to meet its three-year mark specified by WHO before the virus can be termed eradicated.
Suzman, who is also the chief strategy officer of the foundation, expressed worry over some cases of other types of polio which have been recorded in 16 states in the last few months, attributing it to complacence.
He acknowledged that it is difficult to spend time and money on vaccinations when there has been no case in over 30 months, but warned that if any new case is recorded as a result of reduced vaccination, then Nigeria would be back to square one.
“On the fight against polio you are all aware that Nigeria is the last country in Africa that has had endemic polio, we are getting very close: you need to have not had a wild polio virus case for three years to be certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“We are getting tantalizingly close to that date and we are hoping that we are going to be able to celebrate with the government and WHO. We have just come from a meeting with the NGF and we would be having a meeting with the Vice President and we would be saying: at this last moment when we are so close we need continued Nigerian leadership and support to meet the deadline.
“The risk when you get so close and people don’t see any case is that there would be a slowdown in vaccination campaigns. You have to keep vaccinating every child as long as there is any polio case anywhere in the world.
“We have also seen in the last few months unfortunately some cases of when you have very low immunization rates, lower than expected; you see a spread of some related polio.
“We have seen this in around 16 Nigerian states in the last 6 months where vaccination rates dropped below 50 per cent. We have had a good meeting with the governors’ forum and a strong commitment from them that they will redouble their efforts to make sure that we do up the vaccination rates and meet that deadline,” he said.
He urged the governments at all levels to follow through with their commitment by fully funding the polio campaigns for the remaining few months to the issuance of the WHO certificate.
Suzman stressed that polio cases have nothing to do with insecurity, but with non-commitment to the vaccination campaigns, giving examples with Lagos and Ogun states which recently recorded cases of the different type of polio that is not endemic.
According to him, what is needed is the commitment to vaccinate every child or at least 80 per cent of them until the virus is eradicated, insisting that “it has been the lack of full energy about the revaccination campaigns; all we need to do is to go and do emergency campaigns where there have been cases.
“Nigeria had been doing that but in the last few months we have seen slippages where some times the immunisation rates and campaigns dropped below 50 per cent. That is the point where we want to see the political leadership, where we need a clear commitment from the Nigeria Governors Forum.
“When you are close to the finish line, it’s easy to just get a little bit complacent, we cannot just let up. The risk of a let up just raises the prospect of if we were to get another case of wild polio outbreak then we would be back to square one.
“So far, the news is good, we want you to be optimistic but we also want to be vigilant,” he stressed.