Experts speak on challenges of polio eradication in North-east

Oral-Polio-Immunization
Immunization of a child used to illustrate the story. [Photo credit: Lagosmums]

Some health experts on polio eradication have called for approval of President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for $1 billion to fight insurgency in the North-east.

Boko Haram activities have limited access to some areas in the North-east and thereby hindered vaccination in those areas. Though Nigeria has gone 18 months without any new case of polio outbreak, but conflict areas are still under threat.

Speaking at the 35th meeting of the Expert Review Committee for polio eradication and routine immunisation in Nigeria in Abuja on Tuesday, the chairman of the committee, Oyewale Tomori, described access to such areas as key to eradicating the virus.

He urged the federal government to do everything possible to end the activities of Boko Haram, if the country is to make ”any statement in the bid to be declared polio free nation.”

“The only solution is get rid of Boko Haram and get access to the children. Whatever the government needs to get it done, let’s get politics out of it and let’s solve the problem in those LGAs. And in another six months, this country will be free from polio if we can get access required,” he said.

Mr Tomori, who solicited for support for the $1 billion request tabled by the government to execute the fight against insurgency in the North-east, urged Nigerians not to play politics with the matter.

He called on the government to dispatch the same strategy deployed in the release of the Dapchi girls to secure access to all the hard-to-reach areas in the North-east so as to enable field workers move in to vaccinate the children.

Mr Tomori said the country has not done too well as there was never any political commitment to fight polio.

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“We haven’t done too well since 2004. Different governments have come, and given commitment which they call political will but, I call political wit. They give the will but they do not commit, which means putting your money and self into it. For polio to be eradicated, it takes personal commitment.”

On his part, the Executive Secretary of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Faisal Shuaib, posited that the country has what it takes to fight polio and eradicate the virus from the country.

He however said lack of access has hindered the process.

“The outcome of the 35th expert review committee on polio eradication and routine immunisation came out with strong recommendations on what Nigerians need to do to finish the job of polio eradication. Simply put, success is access. The only reason why Nigeria is still categorised as polio endemic country is because they do not have access to some LG areas in Borno state. Until we have access to these LGAs and other smaller wards then it is difficult for us to say categorically that polio has been eradicated.

“The FG approved N9.8 billion in 2016 to ensure we mount a robust outbreak response to stop the outbreak. All of that effort has now stemmed the outbreak since 2016. We have not seen any case of polio virus. Unless we finish the work and reach the kids in these LGAs, there is always that threat that we might have a resurgence of the polio virus.

”That means all efforts would have gone down the drain, so we must have all hands on deck to ensure that the final LGAs and wards where there may be potential circulation of wild polio viruses are reached,” he said

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