By Dili San Jules
Ongoing political buzz and elections next month cannot be allowed to stifle campaign against polio, the Expert Review Committee assessing Nigeria’s progress on polio has warned.
“Government needs to continue to support the programme,” said Dr Ado Muhammad, secretary of the ERC which convened its 29th meeting in Abuja to help push “the final onslaught” against the virus, which cripples children.
“We are working to ensure that the election does not become a distraction, but that polio eradication should become an issue during campaign.”
“Despite the efforts we have made, we should not rest until we attain certification,” added Muhammad, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency. Nigeria has come close twice before, cutting infections by up to 90%, but lost momentum during elections of 2011 and 2007.
The warning comes as Nigeria is expected to clock six months without a single case of wild poliovirus by January 24, exactly six months since the last case was reported in Kano on July 24.
“What that means is that no child has been paralysed by wild poliovirus in the past six months, and we are already counting days to the interruption,” Muhammad explained.
Transmission of the virus would have been interrupted if no cases is reported by July 24, a whole year since the last case, and Nigeria can be certified polio free by the World Health Organisation if it remains free for two more years by 2018.
Federal government has earmarked N2.568 billion for polio eradication, and this week Rotary, one of the biggest funders of polio globally, announced it would commit N1.5 trillion in grants to be used by WHO and UNICEF to help Nigeria in “its final push” to eradicate polio.
“Funding must not only be sustained, it must be improved,” said Prof Oyewale Tomori, chairman of the ERC.
“The activities we have done so far this year in terms of our surveillance, checking after the children, ensuring they get the vaccination, must be intensified.”
“This country took care of Ebola by doing an aggressive monitoring of cases. Aggressive vaccination of our children, that’s what is going to get us free of polio,” Tomori cautioned.