Again, Nigeria’s March To Polio-Free Status Stalled

With Nigeria almost at the last stage of being declared a polio-free country, the Lagos State government has confirmed the discovery of an environmental strand of the polio virus in Makoko, Itire, and Maracana Canals in the state.

Disclosing this at a media/stakeholders’ sensitisation workshop in Lagos on Thursday was Titilayo Goncalves, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health.

Goncalves said the state government, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies, was gearing up for another polio vaccination campaign in this regard from Saturday, June 15 to Tuesday, June 18, 2019.

The permanent secretary also said the vaccination campaign was to halt the spread of polio virus and increase coverage of immunised children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

She further said that the vaccination campaign would improve the herd immunity of the environment against the wild polio virus.

Dr. Gonclaves, however, said the campaign was aimed at eliminating the polio virus found in the state, stressing that the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was very passionate to ensure that no child in Lagos suffered disability or die as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases.

She said the second phase of the polio vaccination campaign was in furtherance of the noble goal that all the children in Lagos State be covered by the present immunisation campaign which is being done house to house so that the 100 percent status of polio immunisation would be attained, maintained, and sustained.

According to her, “We have made good progress in this bid with the cooperation and support of other agencies and development partners, but we are still pursuing this goal with great determination and focus so that no single child between 0 and 59 months should remain unimmunised or unprotected from the polio virus.”

She said the four-day campaign, which would be flagged off tomorrow, would commence on the 15th of June and close on the 18th of June, 2019, and the operations would be between the hours of 8a.m. and 4p.m. daily, adding that no child should be left out.

Gonclaves said the vaccination was an opportunity for parents and caregivers to catch up with the other immunisations by going to the PHCs and General Hospitals in their neighbourhood as it was safe, free, not dangerous and could be taken irrespective of former immunisation status.

Gonclaves said no child was safe from the vaccine-preventable diseases until immunised.

Commenting, Dr. Fiona Braka, a representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “We are in the middle of an outbreak and we must respond to it. The outbreak response must be of high quality to interrupt the transmission of the virus.

“Nigeria has made remarkable progress in the fight against polio. We are now 32 months without a wild polio virus Nigeria.”

She said, however, that the fresh outbreak was a different strain and required appropriate response.

She said the goal was to interrupt the virus, and noted that Nigeria could only achieve it if everyone worked collectively to bring out children to get two drops of polio vaccine over the next four days.

She said: “The virus has been detected in three canals in Lagos State; Makoko, Itire, and Maracana. So far this year, seven viruses have been isolated in Lagos. It is our hope and wishes that why we are all here is that this outbreak will be interrupted as quickly as possible.”

Also speaking, Dr. Tayo Lawal, the Permanent Secretary, Primary Health Care Board, Lagos State, pointed out that “the polio vaccination campaign would involve house-to-house, transit, and fixed post teams”.

She added: “Children at homes, markets, churches, mosques, major car parks, and social event venues would be specifically targeted.”

He said it would be done house-to-house and transit components of these teams comprising 7,381 trained personnel who will administer only OPV to children aged 0–59 months irrespective of their immunization status.

“They will also encourage the eligible children in the houses to visit the immunization posts located within all our Primary Health Care centres and General Hospitals for the other antigens,” he said.

Dr. Usman Adamu, from the Primary Health Care Board, Abuja, said data from the last polio campaign revealed that the main reasons some children were not vaccinated in Lagos State include estates and gated communities refusing entry of immunisation teams, and many parents claiming not to have heard about the immunization campaign.

As long as a single child remains unprotected by immunisation, there is a high risk for infection to occur, says Adamu, while urging the media to create more awareness on the need for parents to ensure that their children under age five was vaccinated against polio.

He appealed to every parent and caregiver to ensure that all children that were five years and below received polio vaccine when health workers come knocking between June 15th and 18th, 2019 while the children zero months to 5 years are also taken to the health posts so designated for other vaccinations.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Communication for Development Specialist, Hayon Nam, said part of the role of the media was to disseminate the correct information to the people so that they can make an informed decision on this activity that could change their lives.

She said the media was the ear, eyes, and mouth of Nigeria and the most trusted source of information.

“We are on the last mile to eradicating polio in Nigeria; however, without the efforts of the media getting the information to the larger population and getting their children vaccinated, we won’t eradicate polio.”

Recall that in 2016, Nigeria recorded two new cases of wild polio on the 2nd anniversary after the last confirmed case of polio was reported in Africa in July 2014.

After more than two years without wild poliovirus in Nigeria, the country reported that two children had been paralysed by the disease in Borno State in August, 2016.