….As WHO declares Africa Wild Polio Free
By Taiwo Ajala
Containing the scourge of the Covid-19 Pandemic and also trying to keep Wild Polio Virus out of Africa will be a tough job, but with strong immunisation programmes improving where they are currently weak, Africa will prevail, Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has said.
In a video conference Tuesday, to celebrate the declaration of Africa as a Wild Polio Virus free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gates said African governments must continue to invest in public health infrastructure, stay vigilant against outbreaks and work together.
“The Covid -19 pandemic is testing Africa and the world, we must find ways to beat the virus and ensure we don’t backslide on polio and other diseases, it is going to be tough but I am confident that we will prevail with a strong immunisation programme continue and improve in the main places where they remain weak,” Gates said.
The WHO Afro Region received the certification from the Independent Africa Regional Committee on Polio Eradication after Nigeria clocked three years without the incident of a wild polio virus in any of the 19 northern states of the country.
Nigeria has remained the only country in Africa yet to eradicate polio within its borders, a situation which had held back the whole of Africa from getting the certification. Nigeria’s achievements followed the intervention of traditional and religious leaders in the north under the umbrella of the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee (NTLC) on Routine Immunisation and Primary Health Care Strengthening.
The NTLC had played the critical role of intervening and creating awareness as well as dispelling rumours and misconceptions about the potency and or efficacy of the polio vaccines being administered in Nigeria and convincing the religious and culturally sensitive north to accept the polio vaccines.
Also speaking at the event, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari reinstated the commitment of the government to ensure that the virus would not resurface in Nigeria. Mr. Buhari who described the event as truly historical said the eradication of WPV in Nigeria is a fulfilment of a personal pledge by him to Nigerians.
“This is indeed a truly and historic event I recall that shortly after taking office in 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I will not bequeath a polio endemic country to my successor, this certification is a personal fulfilment of that pledge to Nigerians and Africa,” he said.
He promised his administration’s commitment to staying polio-free. “Let me assure the global community that Nigeria will sustain the momentum and leverage on the lessons learnt on polio eradication to strengthen our health system especially primary health care and prioritise health security.
“We must continue to vaccinate our children because vaccines save lives, we must continue to invest in our health institutions and build trust in the government and confront the health challenges we face together.”
In his remarks, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man and chairman of Aliko Dangote Foundation, said polio brought untold hardship on humanity and ending WPV is “a giant step forward but we must be tenacious about where we want to go from here.”
While thanking Gates for his support, Dangote said governments must end vaccine derived polio as well as the WPV also calling on governments to make sustained political commitments and “hold ourselves accountable for the results good or bad.”
The campaign to “Kick Polio out of Africa” was initiated in 1996 by the late South African President, Nelson Mandela as WPV paralysed more than 75,000 African children each year. Since then 1.8 million wild polio cases have been averted, nine billion oral polio vaccine doses have been provided, 220 million children vaccinated multiple times every year and two million volunteer vaccinators have supported the campaign, according to the WHO.
“Staying wild polio free and stopping vaccine derive polio virus means continuing to invest in polio immunisation campaign and infrastructure, African governments need to provide political and financial support to ensure that eradicating polio remains a top priority,” Gates said.