By Nike Adebowale
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to observe the World Polio day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for heightened surveillance
if the country is to be certified polio free by the year 2020.
In a statement issued to mark the day, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said it would be a disaster if the region fails to be certified because of poor surveillance performance.
The World Polio Day is observed on October 24 every year.
Poliomyelitis is an infectious disease that affects mainly children and causes paralysis of the limbs. Nigeria reportedly had more than half the world’s cases in 2012 creating a lot of panic which prompted a swift response.
Polio is preventable by administering the polio vaccine over a period of time. The disease is spread from person to person through ingesting fecal matter or food and water containing the fecal matter.
In up to 70 per cent of polio infections, there are no symptoms but gradual development of muscle weakness leading to paralysis.
In June this year, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, said the disease remains a threat in Nigeria as over 100,000 children are yet to be immunised in the North-eastern part of country,
Mr Adewole said this is largely due to the Boko Haram insurgency that makes some areas inaccessible to health officials.
He however noted that Africa has made remarkable progress towards eradicating poliomyelitis.
To back up his claims, Mr Adewole said in 2012, the African region reported 128 wild poliovirus (WPV) cases, which accounted for more than half of the global burden.
“But in 2013, only about 76 cases were reported; 2014, about 17cases and no case was reported in 2015.
“Nonetheless, in 2016, after almost two years, four cases were confirmed from areas that were under Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State in Nigeria and the outbreak was successfully contained,” he said.
The last case of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) was reported 24 months ago in Monguno LGA, Borno State, until few days ago when a polio virus type 2 was discovered in Bauchi State.
Adamu Ningi, the WHO Bauchi State coordinator, said that the polio virus type 2 was found at Gwallaga mosque area linking three wards of Makama B, Hardo and Dankade.
This keeps Nigeria on the list of polio endemic countries as some areas in the North-east remain inaccessible to the polio programme.
Nigeria as at 2016 was on the verge of being certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation before new cases were reported.
This has stalled the certification of Nigeria as polio-free. Before a country is certified free, it has to have recorded no case of polio for three consecutive years.
Mr Moeti said new cases of polio have dropped by more than 99.9 per cent since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) nearly 30 years ago.
He said, the figures have dropped from 350,000 cases every year in more than 125 affected countries, to 22 wild polio cases in 2017 in two affected countries.
Mr Moeti noted that the African region has reached an important milestone towards eradication, as it has been two years since the last case of wild poliovirus.
He however said that until polio is completely eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks.
He said, “I applaud the excellent efforts of governments, polio eradication partners, communities, parents and health workers in achieving this magnificent milestone.”
“However, this is no time to be complacent. Until polio is eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks. As a region, Africa can only be certified to have eradicated polio if three years have passed without any confirmed wild poliovirus, and if polio surveillance (closely looking out for polio cases) has been maintained at the level required for certification.
“If no new case is confirmed, and surveillance is quickly strengthened, the African region can be certified to have eradicated polio by the end of 2019 or early 2020,” he said.
He urge all countries – whether they have had a case of polio or not, to recommit to strengthen surveillance urgently.