The excitement that greeted the certification of Nigeria as a polio free nation may well be short-lived if the recent discovery of another suspected strain of the disease in some states of the country is anything to go by. Before now, Nigeria had had running battles containing the dreaded poliovirus over the propriety or otherwise of its vaccines arising largely from unfounded conspiracy theories.
After a tortuous battle including a sustained awareness campaign on immunisation, the nation was eventually certified polio free last year by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC) of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
However, this newspaper observes that the recent outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) in some parts of the country, barely one year after Nigeria was declared free of Wild Polio Virus (WPV), is a serious source of concern.
As at the last count, no fewer than 13 states and the Federal Capital Territory have reported the outbreak, including, Abia, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, FCT, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Lagos, Niger, Rivers, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
It is disheartening, in our considered opinion, that the outbreak is occasioned by the large number of children missed during the routine immunisations as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant response which further exacerbated the situation. A report by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative claimed that as at June 15, 2021, seven countries reported polio cases involving circulating cVDPV2.
According to the report, Afghanistan reported one cVDPV2 case, Burkina Faso had two cases, Benin one case, Congo and Cote d’Ivoire each reported one cVDPV2 positive environmental sample, DR Congo had one cVDPV2 case while six of such cases was reported in Ethiopia. Further still, the report revealed that Niger had one cVDPV2 case and one cVDPV2 positive environmental sample even as Senegal had five cVDPV2 cases.
The new variant, experts said, is a result of the fact that some infants either did not turn up at all for the exercise or did not complete the dose. One particularly worrisome fact is that some may have experienced viral shedding and the particles became virulent and began to infect the person.
It is pertinent to note that even though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted health services across the world, one major routine health service that had suffered a setback and disruption in Nigeria is the immunisation against childhood killer diseases. At that time, this newspaper warned severally about the implication of what was a monumental error of concentrating efforts on one disease. The pandemic made it practically impossible to immunise children under the age of 5.
It is imperative to emphasize, in our view, that without sustained routine immunization, many children risk vaccine-preventable diseases. There is, therefore, the necessity to ensure that now, more than ever before, concerted efforts are made to step-up routine immunisation for children to guarantee them a sound health.
As for the new polio strain, we suggest that the concern should be on how best to stop it. And we believe that one sure way of doing that is to urgently re-initiate polio immunization to eliminate the chances of the virus becoming active.
There must be an immediate roll out of polio campaigns in states where this disease is detected to ensure that the nation did not allow it to circulate in a manner that will lay waste gains of the past.
In the circumstance, we are consoled by the assurances from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) that the nation’s polio-free status is not under threat.
In a statement, the agency said, “The attention of NPHCDA has been drawn to reports in some sections of the media, claiming that there is an outbreak of a new polio variant in some states. This is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. For the avoidance of doubt, no case of WPV has been reported anywhere in the country since the last case in 2016.
It went further to explain that, “What is being misconstrued for an outbreak of WPV is the detection, through our robust disease surveillance system, of 22 cases of Acute Flaccid Paralysis, spread across seven (7) States (Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara). These non-wild polioviruses originated because of normal changes in the reproduction of viruses.
It assured that “These viruses are not as virulent as WPV and are also being reported in other countries. Working with our donors and development partners, Nigeria has already acquired new tools and resources to ensure these viruses are contained.”
The agency stressed that working with its partners, it would continue to conduct surveillance and vaccination campaigns in order to prevent and contain any possible importation of the virus.
Though the assurances by the NPHCDA are heartening, as a newspaper, we believe all hands must be on deck to halt the spread of the cVDPV2 more so that it is coming in the midst of concerns over another wave of COVID-19 pandemic. The urgency of the situation, in our opinion, is compelling and cannot be over-emphasised.
Nigeria’s Wild Polio Virus-free Status Not Under Threat – NPHCDA(Opens in a new browser tab)