Friday, 24 October 2014

Polio may paralyse, kill 250,000 children

By: CHIOMA UMEHA

There are fears that 250,000 children each year may be paralysed or die as a result of polio, if the global effort to eradicate the disease fails.

At the Global Vaccine Summit penultimate week, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) presented a comprehensive six-year plan to eradicate polio. The first plan is to eradicate all types of polio disease – both wild poliovirus and vaccine-derived cases – simultaneously. Global leaders and individual philanthropists signaled their confidence in the plan by pledging three-quarters of the plan’s projected US$ 5.5 billion cost over six years. They also called upon additional donors to commit up front the additional US$1.5 billion needed to ensure eradication.

The new plan capitalizes on the best opportunity to eradicate polio, with the number of children paralyzed by this disease at their lowest level ever (223 in 2012and 19 so far this year). The urgency is linked to the tremendous advances made in 2012 and the narrow window of opportunity to seize on that progress and stop all poliovirus transmission before polio-free countries become re-infected. “After millennia battling polio, this plan puts us within sight of the endgame. We have new knowledge about the polioviruses, new technologies and new tactics to reach the most vulnerable communities. The extensive experience, infrastructure and knowledge gained from ending polio can help us reach all children and all communities with essential health services,” said World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan.

However, there are fears that Nigeria may not meet this target based on the response to the on-going Immunization Pulse Days (IPD) which began Saturday, and ends today. While monitoring the exercise, Daily Newswatch, found out that there are existing gaps in the formula for success which is to immunize more children more consistently and to protect polio-free areas in the high risk states, local governments and villages in the upcoming critical rounds before the rainy season. The major challenges facing the programme is the re-appearance of well-organized anti-immunization propaganda which requires a coherent and effective response and the recent upsurge in security incidents in key states, especially Borno and Kano, that have delayed activities and hampered access to high risk areas.

Reacting to this, the Association of Polio Survivors of Nigeria urged parents across the country to ensure that all their children below the age of five, are vaccinated against the polio virus in each and every immunization round to save them from the crippling disease. “Every child that does not get the polio drops during a round, breaks the circle of protection and exposes self and others to contracting the virus,” said Misbahu Lawan Didi, National Chairman of the Association. Adding: “Polio virus not only cripples a child but is a scourge for the whole of the country and the world.”  Speaking on behalf of the Association that is an umbrella body for over 100,000 polio-affected people in the country, he said: “Nigeria is the only polio endemic country in Africa. If we fail to end transmission of polio virus here, all other countries are at risk of resurgence of polio. I urge all religious and traditional leaders to come out and ensure each and every child is vaccinated in every vaccination campaign.”

Polio Vaccination
Corroborating earlier views, Didi, commended progress made so far in the fight against polio, adding that the Association has launched a massive push to support efforts for ensuring that no child is missed in the Immunization Pulse Days (IPD) which began Saturday, and ends today, in 15 high risk northern States. Since the beginning of this year, 16 children below the age of five contracted Wild Polio Virus (WPV) in eight States in northern Nigeria compared to 40 cases that were detected in 10 States for the same period in 2012. The decrease in number of infected children and the concentration of cases in fewer states as compared to last year is seen as an opportunity for Nigeria, the only polio endemic country in Africa, to curb the scourge of polio.

Experts say that the rainy season provides the best environment for the virus to circulate and if all eligible children in the most affected areas of the country are vaccinated with the WPV vaccine in the next few rounds then the country stands a good chance in curtailing the transmission of the polio virus. The Polio Survivors Association has been actively participating in the efforts to sensitise people about the failure to vaccinate children against the polio virus by going out during rounds and speaking to some sections of the society that are against polio vaccination.

The recipe for success is to immunize more children more consistently and to protect polio-free areas quality gaps in the high risk states, local governments and villages must be closed in the upcoming critical rounds before the rainy season. The key challenges facing the programme is the re-appearance of well-organized anti-immunization propaganda requires a coherent and effective response and the recent upsurge in security incidents in key states, especially Borno and Kano, that have delayed activities and hampered access to high risk areas.

The Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013 to 2018 was developed by the GPEI in extensive consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. The plan incorporates the lessons learnt from India’s success becoming polio free (no cases since January 2011) and cutting-edge knowledge about the risk of circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses. It also complements the tailored Emergency Action Plans being implemented since last year in the remaining polio-endemic countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria – including approaches in place to vaccinate children in insecure areas.

Though President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration made a commitment to eradicate the wild polio virus in the country by September, there are still records of fresh cases of the diseases, especially in the Northern part of the country.

This story was published in Daily Newswatch on May 15, 2013.

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