Nigeria recorded 120 outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio recently, a rare poliovirus that exists in areas with poor sanitation. According to the country representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nigeria, Dr Peter Hawkins, oral polio vaccine contains live virus that is weakened so as to prompt the body’s immune response without causing paralysis.
Hawkins explained that when the vaccine is ingested, the weakened virus replicates in the child’s gut and was then excreted, adding that this excreted vaccine virus can spread to other children in areas with poor sanitation and when the strain no longer finds susceptible children, it dies out.
But what if this occurs in areas where children have not been vaccinated with polio vaccines? The chairman, Public Health Sustainable Advocacy Initiative (PHSAI), Ayo Adebusoye tells me that such vaccine-derived strains of the virus can continue to circulate as long as they continue to find unvaccinated or otherwise susceptible children.
That is why the importance of routine immunisation cannot be over-emphasised, Adebusoye said, adding that, this is a wake-up call for government to strengthen the health system in a sustainable way.
This kind of polio is caused by poor sanitation system, hence the reason why states should strengthen the health education department. Government, as a matter of urgency, should embark on massive sensitisation campaigns, educating Nigerians, especially those living in rural areas and hard to reach areas on the importance of keeping their environment clean.
“Government must own routine immunisation fully funded by them, otherwise, we will keep seeing a resurgence of preventable diseases,” Adebusoye added.
He however appealed to government to prioritise routine immunisation and strengthen health education system, especially at the hard to reach areas, before things get out of hand.
On his part, the executive director of National Primary Health Care Development Agency, (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, noted that with the different disease outbreaks that the country was currently contending with, it was imperative that the approach becomes more integrated.
“This is because they are all interwoven. Amidst COVID-19, we have Cholera, CVDPV2 which is as a result of suboptimal routine immunisation in some parts of the country. As we conduct outbreak response campaigns, we need to find a way to integrate our responses for efficient utilisation of available resources and to enhance confidence in our people,” Shuaib explained.
It is in the spirit of integration that the federal government has adopted ‘the whole of family approach’ for this second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination, the executive director said, adding that, “It entails screening children 0 to 12 months for malnutrition and routine immunisation status.”