No doubt the world has Dr Jonas Salk to thank for Nigeria becoming Wild Polio Virus free. History has put him down as the man who successfully tested a vaccine against the dreaded polio disease. Nigeria being the last African country to become Wild Polio Virus free is a feat worth celebrating, leaving behind Pakistan and Afghanistan which are officially the two countries in the world struggling with the crippling virus.
This cheery news was recorded in late August when Nigeria was certified Wild Polio Virus free by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) Independent Africa Regional Certification Commission. The criterion put in place was not an easy one. Before a country is declared Wild Polio free, it must be free of the virus for three consecutive years. Difficult as it is given the country’s circumstances, it was achieved.
The Independent Africa Regional Certification Commission, is known as the World Health Organisation’s decision-making body in Africa. The body is said to meet once annually, in order to dialogue and make policies as regards health plans in general. Previously, Nigeria was said to have accounted for over half of all global cases of polio virus less than 10 years ago.
However, on August 21, 2019, Nigeria completed three years of being polio free and eventually on August 25, WHO officially certified Nigeria alongside Africa as Wild Polio Virus free. The Virus, scientifically known as poliomyelitis, is a deadly infectious disease. It sometimes affects children under five years, leading to irreversible paralysis. It can also lead to death if not properly treated.
While Wild Polio Virus has no cure, it has a vaccine that protects children for life. The virus is spread through contaminated water and can go from one person to the other, attacking the nervous system and leading to paralysis.
Two out of three types of Wild Polio Virus have been eradicated worldwide, with the last strain eradicated in Africa, according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The report also stated that above 95 percent of Africa’s population has now been immunised.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that there are three types of Wild Polio Virus in the world, namely: type 1, type 2, and type 3. CDC notes the importance of protecting people against all three types of the virus, in order to prevent polio disease. It also points out that the polio vaccine is the best protection.
The Centre further stressed that the type 2 Wild Polio Virus was declared eradicated in September 2015, and the last virus was detected in India in 1999. The Type 3 Wild Polio Virus was declared eradicated in October 2019, being last detected in November 2012.
It was only the type 1 Wild Polio Virus that remains. CDC further mentions that there are two vaccines used to protect people against polio disease, namely: Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) and Inactivated Poliovirus vaccine (IPV).
While the country is celebrating this feat, it is pertinent to point out that the real work of avoiding a reversal must begin in earnest. WHO has warned that the battle is not yet over, and that children under five must continue to be routinely vaccinated to prevent the return of the disease, as well as other vaccine preventable diseases staging a comeback.
Recently, a newspaper report claimed that fresh cases of the disease connected to the use of oral vaccine was seen in Sudan after an outbreak happened in Chad. The medium further noted that the news of the outbreak came a week after WHO announced Africa, Wild Polio Virus free. Media reports that WHO had linked the cases to a strain of the virus spreading in Chad last year, and warned that the risk of it getting to the Horn of Africa was high.
From this emerging scenario, warnings that Nigeria ought to protect her borders from re-emergence of the virus, should be taken seriously if the country is to remain free of the disease. The minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, in our opinion, was right when he said that the country was not yet free of the virus and should be on its guard, as it stood a risk of importing the disease from Asia. However, the disease is now close to home since its recent re- emergence in Chad.
This newspaper urges health authorities in Nigeria to take all necessary precautions to prevent the virus returning to the country. As borders are already shut and secured as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, the country should equally keep an eye on Wild Polio Virus and prevent its chances of re-appearing to torment Nigerians.