Last Monday, October 24,2016 the international community marked the World Polio Day in commemoration of the birth of Dr. Jonas Salk, who led the first team of doctors to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis.
Being a highly infectious disease caused by a virus, polio invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted from person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently through contaminated water or food.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children below the age of five years are susceptible to the poliovirus.
That is why there is an urgent need to vaccinate children in this age group. Before discovery of the polio vaccine in 1953, millions of people all over the world suffered from this debilitating disease. Today, the prevalence of the poliovirus is limited to Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It would be recalled that as recently as 2012, Nigeria had accounted for more than half of all global polio cases.
However, the country made significant progress, thanks to the concerted efforts from all levels of government, civil society, religious and traditional leaders as well as thousands of dedicated health workers to contain the disease. There was also strong community involvement, especially from the volunteer community mobilisers, volunteer ward supervisors and more.
In fact on July 4,2014, Nigeria interrupted the transmission of the wild poliovirus, leading to its removal by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from the list of countries where the disease is endemic.
That is why the news that a fresh outbreak of the Wild Polio Virus has reappeared in Nigeria’s northeast is not only alarming but also depressing. Moreover, it has made nonsense of all efforts by major stakeholders to eradicate polio from the country.
With the setback, Nigeria must now wait until mid-2019 without new outbreaks to receive polio-free certification.
It is not surprising that it is from Borno, the centre of the insurgency that created the IDPs’ problem that the virus was, again, detected. When the deplorable condition in the camps of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) began to engage the attention of not only the media but also the international humanitarian agencies, not a few thought that we were going to have a major health challenge soon.
Presently, there is no cure for polio as it can only be prevented through vaccination. We are therefore calling on the Federal Government and other stakeholders to collaborate to fight the scourge. The federal Ministry of Health must immediately pull resources together with the state government to ensure that the virus is completely eradicated this time round.
It is worth restating that the government and aid organisations should embark on emergency measures to reduce the level of malnutrition among children under the age of five in the Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs) and other liberated villages. This is because experts posit that polio vaccines cannot be converted into such form that can provide defense for the body against poliovirus in a child who is not healthy. Unless those malnourished children are provided with food and nutrition to build their body systems, any immunisation may be a waste of resources. While we applaud President Muhammadu Buhari for authorising the release of N9.8billion for polio vaccines, we also commend the Federal Ministry of Health, supported by WHO, UNICEF and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, for commencing an emergency Polio immunisation campaign in the affected areas and across the country. Moreover, we call on all countries of the Lake Chad Basin to work together toward kicking polio out of the region.