The sight of young deformed people with either partial or complete paralysis begging in the streets today is a constant reminder of a national neglect. It also shows the inability of our nation Nigeria to completely eradicate a virus which has limited ability of some people to live an independent life.
Many of the victims have suffered permanent disability, the society and government have not made life easier for them both in daily activities and policy of the government.
Polio is an infectious disease most commonly affecting children under the age of 5 by destroying their nerve cells in the spinal cord, causing muscle wasting, paralysis and sometimes death.
It is transferrable from person to person usually through faeco –oral route, by ingesting contaminated foods or drinks. It spreads easily in overcrowded areas, improper sanitation of waste fluids and in unhygienic environments.
Polio can remain infectious for a long time in contaminated food or water and may circulate for many months or years silently in individuals before it results in flaccid paralysis. That is to say one of every 200 cases results in paralysis.
Over 99.9% of world polio infection rate have been eradicated leaving a handful infectious cases in polio endemic countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria (PAN).
These three countries have one thing in common, war zones and that has been the reoccurring areas of infections.
According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative rate in 2012, Nigeria had the highest number of new cases of 122, with the transmission of all three serotypes: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2.
More than 95% of these cases occurred in the eight persistently endemic northern states of Nigeria: Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. It was believed to be the consequence of the oppositions of the northern Muslim leaders against the polio vaccine in 2003.
They had alleged that polio vaccines used in the northern states were laced with a biological agent that causes infertility in other to reduce or control the population of the north. This allegation was later clearly disproved with laboratory tests comprising representatives from both sides of divide.
Nigeria targeted eradicating poliomyelitis by 2015, but in 2013, about 76 cases were reported, about 17 cases in 2014 and no case was reported in 2015. When Nigeria after 23 months of no new cases was on the brink of being certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation in 2016, 4 new cases of wild polio virus (WPV) were reported on 21st August 2016.
That stalled the certification of Nigeria as polio-free since no country is certified free, until it has recorded no case of wild polio virus for three consecutive years.
There has been no case of wild polio virus in 2017 and 2018 and if by 21st August 2019 no polio is recorded in Nigeria, we will be declared Polio free.
This need to increase and continue immunization across the country was made known in June 2018 during the African Regional Commission for Certification for Poliomyelitis Eradication (ARCC) by the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole.
He said, “Polio remains a threat in Nigeria as over 100,000 children are yet to be immunised against the disease in the north-eastern part of country”.
He blamed Boko Haram insurgency that made some areas inaccessible to health officials for the major setback being experienced by the nation presently. World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, on the recent world polio day 24th October, 2018 called for heightened surveillance by all countries in African Region.
She stated that “if no new case is confirmed, and surveillance quickly strengthened, the African region can be certified to have eradicated polio by the end of 2019 or early 2020. It would be a disaster if the region fails to be certified because of poor surveillance performance”.
There has been effort where combatant soldiers are equipped and trained on how to administer oral Polio vaccines with the aim of reaching children in deep war zones who are out of reach of health workers.
In regards to these, if the northern communities have been properly sensitized on the safety of polio vaccine, routine immunization against polio can be strengthened by providing little incentives to mothers and caregivers to ensure wide vaccination coverage in such areas.
Vaccination can also be introduced and conducted in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees’ camps, Churches and Mosques.
Supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) can be carried out in susceptible states to totally eliminate outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 so that Nigeria just like other African countries would be globally declared polio free.
OBI LOIS AMARACHUKWU