Nigeria has recently been declared Wild Polio Virus free. However, the country should not rest on its oars and must do all it possibly can to prevent a comeback, BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes.
Looking back in time, Africa and the world as a whole has Jonas Salk to thank for the eventual eradication of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) from the continent. Nigeria was officially declared as the last African nation to get rid of the virus.
According to historical records, the first successful polio vaccine was established by Jonas Edward Salk, an American virologist and medical researcher. He worked with a team at the University of Pittsburgh in 1952, with Julius Youngner, Byron Bennett, L. James Lewis, and Lorraine Friedman.
It is indeed decades from today, however we need to look back in time for us to better comprehend the present and set a path for the future. It was as a result of this noble deed, the world, Africa and indeed Nigeria is celebrating success in terminating WPV, after the havoc it had wreaked in the country, especially in the northern part.
Africa was proclaimed WPV free this month of August and the year 2020. While this is good news, we can only hope it stays that way for years to come.
According to World Health Organisation Africa region (WHO Africa) it was the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication that formally gave the news to the world officially of this feat by the Organisation in terminating the virus, leaving it dead in its tracks.
The medical director, General Hospital, Zango Kataf, Kaduna State, Dr Sheyin David Madaki in an interview stated, “Well I think it’s a historic feat it’s an achievement in the history of global health for Nigeria to have achieved that. If you remember very well, being just in 2012 or thereabouts the WHO had reported that Nigeria accounted for more than half the polio cases worldwide.
READ ALSO: As Nigeria Becomes Wild Polio Virus Free
“And for Nigeria to have achieved that barely eight years or less than the years after that, I think that’s commendable. Polio virus is no longer endemic in Nigeria so it’s actually elating. It’s something we should be happy about. A lot of efforts have actually gone in over the years on this and as we know polio is a vaccine preventable disease, that can cause acute paralysis in children.
“So, the immunisation has actually helped a lot in widespread eradication of the virus. Nigeria being one of the few countries left with the polio still prevalent, now we have gone off that list leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think it’s something we need to commend all the major actors involved in it’s defeat.
According to information gathered, WPV is prevented by two types of polio vaccines, the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) and the Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV). Also vital to note is that in recent cases of WPV, these have been traced to what has been called the initial WPV and the mutated oral vaccine strains called circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV).
WPV has been in Nigeria for decades and the country has faced quite a lot of challenges and complexities in its eradication process.
Dr Madaki points out the extreme scale of the challenges experienced in the eradication of the virus.
“The challenges had been so enormous. One of the challenges is in the enlightenment, the awareness of what polio is really all about and how to prevent it. In certain communities you find out that acceptance of vaccines or immunisation is really challenging.
“People either want to bring up a lot of conspiracy theories about what the vaccines are for and what have you. So even in some enlightened communities you find people that were rejecting that vaccine to be given to their children, that’s one of the challenges.
“The other challenge could be funding. Thankfully the Global Polio Eradication Initiative which was playing a key role in actually funding and ensuring that this challenge in funds were minimal as it is, because Nigeria on its own couldn’t have been able to achieve that. So, we had a lot of counterpart funding then, partners that were helping in achieving this.”
A Nigerian, Epidemiology doctoral student at the University of Miami in Florida, Dr Kemi Ogunsina MBBS, MPH, who played a part in the eradication of the virus while in Nigeria, shared thoughts on the process pointing out the hard work the federal government had put into fighting the virus.
She said in an interview, “A lot of effort has been put into the eradication of polio in Nigeria over the years. I am pleased that all the efforts put into polio eradication in Nigeria have finally yielded results.
“Back in the year 2013, we put in so much to revamping the vaccine supply chain system and strengthening accountability from the government, while navigating security challenges that prevented access to children in polio-endemic states.
“Finally, Nigeria has been free from the Wild Polio Virus for four years. It is a pleasure to have been a part of the whole process.”
In terms of stumbling blocks met in the process, Dr Ogunsina indicates that they were mainly in forms of: political, geographical and insecurity coupled with outright refusal of the vaccine.
“The challenges faced in eradicating Wild Polio Virus from Nigeria are diverse. They include factors resulting in failed vaccination attempts due to geographic isolation, hazardous terrains, issues of insecurity, and sporadic refusal of vaccines in the northern part of Nigeria.
“Additionally, political challenges, persistently poor-performing vaccination teams and local governments, the rare occurrence of vaccine-derived polio virus, failure of cold chain resulting in sub-optimal potency vaccines, and weak health systems.
“As part of the polio eradication initiative, certain strategies were developed to counter these challenges such as; demanding accountability from the government and other partners in the polio eradication effort, strengthening the supply chain and cold chain to maintain the potency of the vaccines, education, and awareness campaigns to increase uptake and correct misconceptions about the polio vaccine.
“Others were the training of local community members at different levels to administer vaccines, collect, analyse and interpret data, working with geographic information systems to track vaccinations, working with communities to ensure the security of vaccination teams,” she explained.
According to reports by WHO Africa, appreciation goes to the commitment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which has resulted in reduction of polio cases by 99.9 percent since 1988, drawing the globe closer to ending the virus in it’s entirety.
It also noted that the initiative is a public-private global partnership to involve namely: national governments; World Health Organisation, Rotary International; the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; United Nations Children’s Fund; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and others.
Nigeria being the latest country in the world to eradicate the virus as well as the last to do so, would like to keep it that way. In terms of keeping Nigeria and the African continent free from the virus and prevent a relapse, Dr Madaki agrees that insecurity would have to be nipped in the bud.
“The issue about insecurity is actually also a challenge in keeping it at bay. Because you find out that if insecurity is prevalent in certain areas, volunteers
who go into the hinterlands through this immunisation programmes, would not be able to access some of these troubled areas. As a result, some of those children that actually need this vaccine through immunisation would not be able to get it. So, it’s actually a challenge.
“How do we keep it at bay? With ongoing surveillance. Surveillance must continue. immunisations also must be sustained, this is one of the ways we can actually prevent it from coming back. If that is done, I think I see it being long lasting.
“If insecurity gets worse unfortunately that would also put a clog in the wheel of this feat we’ve achieved. In troubled areas you cannot sustain continued immunisation. And then even the volunteers would not be willing to go into a troubled spot were they know their lives would be in danger. All hands must be on deck to really ensure that this is sustained and long lasting. We pray that should be the case,” he averred.
WHO Africa has also mentioned that this is the marking of the second virus from Africa since small pox which happened 40 years ago.
A little background to this noteworthy feat showed that in the year 1996, when the WPV was paralysing about 75,000 children yearly in Africa, according to WHO Africa, Heads of State dedicated to seeing the WPV end, rose up to the challenge at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Cameroon to set a mechanism in place to put words to action.That action, apparently has paid off.