By Ismaila Chafe
Abuja, Aug. 25, 2020 President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed optimism that African countries can defeat the coronavirus pandemic, in the same manner, it eradicated the Wild Polio Virus on the continent.
The president spoke at the formal certification of the Wild Polio Virus eradication in the African region during the virtual session of the 70th World Health Organisation (WHO) regional committee for Africa, at the State House, Abuja, on Tuesday.
‘‘I recall that shortly after assuming office in May 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor.
‘‘This certification is, therefore, a personal fulfillment of that pledge to not only Nigerians, but to all Africans.
‘‘At a time when the global community is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that with the requisite political will, investments and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, we will flatten the epidemic curve.
‘‘I can affirm the commitment of all African leaders to this course of action,’’ the president said in his remarks while celebrating the historic feat.
He assured the global community that Nigeria would sustain the momentum and leverage on the lessons learnt from polio eradication to strengthen her health system, especially primary health care, and prioritise health security.
He added that Nigeria used data systems, community engagement and innovative technology to monitor and predict the occurrence of polio outbreaks.
According to him, the same skills and tools are being used to fight COVID-19 and the multi-country outbreaks of Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Viruses.
Buhari, who described the achievement as a truly historic moment, commended President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Chairman of the African Union, under whose leadership, Africa crossed the finishing line.
He recounted that the journey to eradicate the virus dated back to 1996, when Nelson Mandela of blessed memory launched the Kick Polio out of Africa campaign.
The Nigerian leader also used the occasion to congratulate Dr Matshidiso Moeti and the WHO Regional Committee for Africa on their untiring efforts, contributions and leadership towards polio eradication in Africa.
‘‘We must guard this achievement of the eradication of Wild Polio Virus in Africa jealously and ensure that we take all necessary steps to prevent a resurgence of this dreaded disease.
‘‘This will require maintaining the highest quality of surveillance and sustaining population immunity through increasing routine immunization coverage and supplemental immunization activities.
‘‘It is heartwarming to note how the strong partnership between the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and Governments of African countries worked tirelessly and collaboratively to deliver this success,’’ he said.
The president further commended the decades of hard work and resilience of health workers and volunteers across the region, Ministers of Health and other stakeholders such as political, traditional, religious and community leaders who provided the required support and leadership.
‘‘I would also like to appreciate the invaluable support of our donors, development and local partners such as WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, GAVI, USAID, European Union, Emeka Offor Foundation, the Japanese and German Governments, numerous NGOs and faith-based organisations.
‘‘These are truly the heroes and heroines of many battles that have made us triumphant in the war against polio,’’ he said.
While stressing the need to sustain vaccination of children in Africa, the president urged African governments to continue investments in the health sector because ‘‘healthy populations create wealthy nations’’.
‘‘We must continue to build trust between Government institutions, leaders and citizens, so that we can unite as a people and confront the health and socio-economic challenges we face together.’’
In his remarks, Chairman, Aliko Dangote Foundation and Africa’s foremost philanthropist, Aliko Dangote urged governments across Africa to increase their budget allocations to the healthcare sector, to help ensure improved basic healthcare for the people.
He expressed deep satisfaction at the final eradication of wild polio in Nigeria, and by extension Africa after years of hard work and collaboration among stakeholders.
Dangote, who played a major role through his Foundation in the eradication of Polio in Nigeria, said:
“I want to commend our African leaders, especially my own President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria for his leadership.
“All levels of government have successfully come together to make this day possible.”