The welcome news of the World Health Organization’s declaration of Nigeria as polio-free is a fitting and deserved gift not only to Nigeria but the African continent as a whole. It is a just reward for the tireless efforts of our public health officials and our global partners. It marks a great achievement in the public health history of our nation. No longer will our youth suffer and be stricken with this crippling scourge amid the concern over Covid-19, this is evidence that we can overcome further health challenge as long as we remain committed and resolute.
In 1988, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio. The World Health Assembly was a gathering spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, and later joined by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. It was at this 1988 gathering that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, an aggressive, and concerted global fight against polio.
Since the passage of this resolution, wild poliovirus cases have decreased by over 99%. In 1988, an estimated 350 000 cases were recorded in more than 125 countries. More than 50% of the cases were in Africa. By 2019, only 175 cases were reported. In 2019, the WHO declared polio was no longer endemic in Nigeria, meaning we had not recorded any case since August 2016, the mandatory three years period.
It is gratifying that the certification of Nigeria as polio-free has come at a time the world is battling the Coronavirus pandemic. This milestone is symbolic of the responsible spirit of the Nigerian and is crowning evidence of the federal government’s dedication and commitment to the eradication of polio. The stage is now set for Africa to be certified totally polio-free. With this year’s commemoration of World Polio Day scheduled for October 24, it is important to highlight the successes Nigerian has recorded in fighting poliomyelitis. This is poignant more so because Nigeria, after South Sudan, was the penultimate country in Africa where polio cases were last reported in 2016.
The combined efforts of our health professionals complemented by Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as other local and international partners must be commended. Their support ensured that Nigeria did not record any cases for three consecutive years. Their advocacy for and prudent vaccination of children especially in the north of Nigeria has brought Africa to the threshold of being polio-free. This will make Africa the fifth region out six to reach this desirable objective.
All efforts must be made to assist the two remaining countries where breakout persists, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These countries are experiencing civil strife in remote regions which complicates attempts at eradication. Nigeria should use its experience to advise and help guide these nations towards eradication.
Despite the Nigerian milestone, we must not drop our guard. We must ensure that the country continues to protect every young child by providing vaccination against the poliovirus in order to prevent any future resurgence of polio. Heartfelt congratulations are due to everyone that has made this feat possible. We may now mark this day as a special day in Nigerian history, the day we rid ourselves of polio!
Oshodi is Special Assistant to Asiwaju Tinubu