Nigeria, Africa Can Eradicate Polio For Good – Dr. Oyewale Tomori

buhari anti-corruption summit London
President Buhari is in London for a major anti-corruption summit. May 11, 2016. Photo/AFP

The battle to eradicate polio in Nigeria and give children a life worth living has been commendable thanks to the careful attention of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, according to Dr. Oyewale Tomori, who is president of the Nigerian Academy of Science and Chairman of Nigeria’s Expert Review Committee on Polio Eradication and Routine Immunization.

Since President Muhammadu Buhari took office last year, he has clearly stated that he is committed to ending polio in Nigeria. Earlier this month, following a meeting with Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, Buhari called for a reinvigorated approach to guaranteeing Nigeria’s polio-free status by prioritizing public funding to health programs and to innovative strategies that have enabled the country to immunize millions of children even in hard-to-reach and insecure areas.

On September 25, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that polio is no longer endemic in Nigeria. This is the first time that Nigeria has interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus, bringing the country and the African region closer than ever to being certified polio-free.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the public-private partnership leading the effort to eradicate polio, called this a “historic achievement” in global health. Nigeria has not reported a case of wild poliovirus since July 24, 2014, and all laboratory data has confirmed a full 12 months has passed without any new cases.

Polio, which can cause lifelong paralysis, has now been stopped nearly everywhere in the world following a 25-year concerted international effort. Polio remains endemic in only two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan. The eradication of polio globally now depends primarily on stopping the disease in these countries. As long as polio exists anywhere, it’s a threat to children everywhere.

While national commitment is critical, state governors and local officials need to act on Buhari’s message. They must not only pledge to keep Nigeria polio-free, but also ensure all our children have access to the vaccines they need to protect them from killer diseases.

In Dr. Oyewale Tomori’s opinion piece on eradicating polio in Nigeria published in the Global Health section of the Guardian.com he wrote:

“Thirty years ago, millions of children went un-vaccinated against a preventable disease that persisted and paralyzed in nearly every country in the world. Since then, the number of un-vaccinated children has dropped precipitously. While we still have work to do to ensure not even one child is missed, the biggest challenge Nigeria has to contend with now is complacency.

On July 24, 2016, Nigeria reached two years without a case of wild polio. That is commendable. But if reaching this landmark has left many euphoric, total eradication would be historic. If Nigeria and the rest of Africa can make it to July 2017 without a case of polio, we will be officially polio free. To do this, we have to consolidate the progress we have already made, and vigorously invest in our collective capacity to contain and wipe out the disease wherever it may linger.

“To banish polio from Nigeria and the rest of the continent, we must vaccinate every child. To miss even one would be to leave the door open for wild polio virus to return, or to risk outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio virus, a very rare form of polio that can emerge in under-immunized populations.

Nigeria already has the opportunity to develop a great legacy. In the past two years, polio surveillance networks have been used to monitor and contain the 2014 Ebola outbreak, as well as responding to measles and rubella outbreaks throughout Africa.

Nigeria should also take the lessons learned from its emergency operations centers – which have been used to great effect for polio and were instrumental in stopping Ebola – to monitor and control disease outbreaks such as Lassa fever, and provide better health services to the large population of internally displaced.”