By Cecilia Ologunagba
Abuja, Aug. 25, 2020 The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have congratulated Nigeria on being declared free of the wild poliovirus
WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, disclosed this in a statement posted on its website.
The independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication on Tuesday, officially declared WHO African Region is free of wild poliovirus.
The statement stated that while the UN agencies congratulated Nigeria on the status, they emphasised that achieving the milestone was not the end of the job – all children under five years must continue to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
This is critical to significantly reduce avoidable mortality in Nigerian children under five years old, keep polio permanently out of Nigeria and ensure better health and well being for future generations.
The UN agencies also congratulated fellow Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners in Nigeria who helped reach this achievement: Rotary International; the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
They also congratulated Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) as well as Nigerian traditional and religious leaders and volunteer community mobilisers as the foot soldiers who fought to free Nigerian children from the wild poliovirus.
The statement quoted Dr Walter Mulumbo, WHO Nigeria Country Representative, as saying: “WHO rejoices with the people and government of Nigeria and acknowledges that wild polio-free certification is undoubtedly the greatest public health.
“It acknowledges that the certification is the greatest triumph in the annals of Nigeria and indeed Africa that will bequeath to posterity lessons learnt and best practices for addressing future public health interventions.
“Both UN agencies expressed strong appreciation for the role played by all stakeholders, especially the commitment and support of the Nigerian government at all levels, development partners, donors, traditional and community leaders, health workers and caregivers.
“This milestone is a clarion call to urgently rededicate resources to stopping the transmission of all types of poliovirus, strengthening routine immunisation to sustain the gains achieved – especially in high risk areas and traditional polio sanctuaries – and maintaining high quality surveillance.’’
Similarly, the statement quoted UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, as saying: “It is a momentous achievement that calls for celebration.
“This historic achievement not only signifies the end of the wild poliovirus across the entire African continent, but is also a significant springboard towards attaining global polio eradication.
“UNICEF joins Nigeria in celebrating this milestone – and congratulating Nigeria’s children, especially – but we must remember that the job is not over,” said Hawkins.
“All caregivers must continue to vaccinate their children against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, including polio.
“Religious and community leaders, as champions of wild poliovirus eradication, should continue to mobilise caregivers to vaccinate their children for all preventable diseases. Children need their help now more than ever,’’ Hawkins added.
Hawkins further said not only was polio vaccination still crucial, all routine vaccinations were critical to children’s survival.
“We must all work together to strengthen routine immunisation services and ensure that all children under five receive all vaccines, including the polio vaccine.
“This is not the time for Nigeria to take its foot off the accelerator. This is the time for Nigeria to strengthen its primary health care system, and give routine immunisation a vital boost.”
UNICEF and WHO pledge to continue to support Nigeria to strengthen its primary healthcare system under the Primary Health Care Under One Roof (PHCUR) policy initiated by the Federal Government, including the goal to have at least one functional primary healthcare centre (PHC) in every ward in Nigeria.
Nigeria attained wild polio-free status after meeting all the criteria for certification, which include three years of non-detection of any wild poliovirus case in the country.
Before the certification, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan were the only wild polio endemic countries globally.