This article by Raheem Oluwafunminiyi was originally published in News Africa Now. To see the original article, click here


No letting up fight to end polio

At a time the Ebola virus is fast spreading to other climes, with a recent case detected in Texas, it is apparent that Ebola is now a global disease. With over 3000 death recorded in West Africa alone, and as the number grows daily, there is the need for all to pull the necessary resources together in the eradication and spread of Ebola.

While global effort against Ebola continues, we must not forget that though no viable vaccine has been fully certified by global health bodies, the disease is controllable through what Tom Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls “rapid, focused interventions”.

The Ebola success story in Nigeria is worthy of mention here and with U.S officials taking a cue from the former in the hope of preventing the transmission of the virus in the U.S, after Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas, Ebola hopefully can be contained if extensive response is pursued.

To understand how Nigeria went around the Ebola conundrum, it is important to note, beyond the usual untenable arguments, that the on-going polio campaign the country in the last couple of years have engaged in contributed in many ways to the country’s success at impeding the virus. How viable is this fact? According to the Guardian, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was reported to have built in 2012 an emergency command centre to assess the presence of Polio in the region, an initiative which assisted Nigeria to proactively contain the Ebola spread. Since Patrick Sawyer’s diagnosis, Nigerian healthcare personnel, employing emergency operations, had confirmed 19 cases in addition to one probable case. By late September, health officials had identified 894 contacts with those cases and conducted 18,500 visits with those who had potentially been infected to check for Ebola symptoms. Since then, no new cases have been recorded.

It is today clear that Nigeria’s effort at containing Ebola is a pure indication that it can also deal with some of its other health challenges, most importantly polio. Polio is severe mostly because of its lasting physical disability on its victims. These individuals face daily challenges that mostly impede them from living normal lives. Significant progress in the global effort to eradicate the disease has however been made, with 99 per cent reduction since 1988. Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan remain polio endemic countries. While Pakistan recently immunised 34.2 million children or 95 per cent of all children below five across the country, with further hope of immunisation, Nigeria’s effort has been remarkable. According to Ted Turner in a recent article, Nigeria has so far recorded just six polio cases in two states in 2014 which is over 85 per cent reduction. The article observed that more than 75 per cent of all children have received the oral polio vaccine in eight northern Nigerian states, a proof of the significant progress made on polio.

Interestingly, the effectiveness of Nigeria’s polio initiatives and its dramatic reduction has been hinged on the support of stakeholders (traditional and religious leaders) at all levels of government. In fact, Mr. Turner’s article aptly noted that “Their commitment to ending polio…was clear, and they have delivered on [it] in the intervening years.” While Mr. Turner’s view that “Nigeria’s progress on polio is… fragile” and that “there is reason to be concerned about a decline in high-level oversight at the state and local government levels” is acknowledged, this writer is however, of the view that government at all levels, including traditional and religious leaders cannot do it alone. Hemce, apart from the significant efforts of UN agencies like World Health Organisation and UNICEF, Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, governments in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a number of others too have taken the polio End Game seriously.

As Africa’s only endemic country, few Nigerians or organisations have made polio eradication an important task. One of such Nigerian is Sir Emeka Offor. Through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) both moral and financial support has been given to a wide range of the polio initiatives. Sir Offor’s resolve to wipe out polio from Nigeria remains utterly indubitable. In August 2013, he cemented his commitment to the END POLIO NOW with a grand donation of $1.3 million to Rotary International in Lisbon, Portugal. At the PolioPlus presentation, he stated that the turning point for him was when he received word that his earlier donation of $250,000 was applied immediately to the on-going efforts in Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Sir Offor, the first Rotary International Polio Ambassador in Nigeria presented another donation of $1 million to Rotary International PolioPlus campaign this year as part of his commitment “to provide resources that support polio immunization efforts in Nigeria and throughout the world.” Together, the amount donated to Rotary towards Polio Eradication by the Foundation totalled $3.1 million, an amount matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 2 for 1, bringing the total to $9.3 million.

While we recognise some of the salient points raised in Mr Turner’s article, we make bold to say that the dramatic and successful reduction of polio cases in Nigeria in the last couple of years is mostly part of the direct financial intervention of Sir Offor. Though the Nigerian Government has not officially recognized Sir Offor or the Foundation as a distinct partner in the Global Emergency Eradication Initiative, and considers such funding as simply coming from Rotary International, yet the Foundation’s continued involvement in recent projects with the Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF continues to reflect SEOF as core partners in the polio eradication project

The dramatic success recorded in the fight against Polio in Nigeria is unprecedented. With the level of huge funding among other Polio related initiatives, Nigeria’s polio status will sooner end. With 95 per cent reduction in polio cases, we are now this close to ending polio.

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via [email protected].