By Ifeanyi Nwoko
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has called on the Federal and State governments not to relent in the campaigns and vaccination to totally eradicate the wild polio virus.
In a media chat with newsmen in Abuja, the President, Global Policy and Advocacy of the Foundation, Mark Suzman cautioned governments not to relax until the World Health Organisation’s certificate is obtained.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had been in Nigeria since the year 2000 supporting the government in curbing HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, maternal and child mortality as well as fighting polio.
Suzman explained that Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have recorded the disease, adding that the nation only had a few months to meet its 3-years mark specified by WHO before the virus can be termed eradicated.
Suzman, who is also the Chief Strategy officer of the foundation, expressed worry over some cases of other types of polio which had been recorded in 16 states in the last few months, attributing it to complacence.
He acknowledged that it was difficult to spend time and money on vaccinations when there has been no case in over 30 months, but warned that if any new case is recorded as a result of reduced vaccination, then Nigeria would be back to square one.
“On the fight against polio you are all aware that Nigeria is the last country in Africa that has had endemic polio, we are getting very close: you need to have not had a wild polio virus case for three years to be certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“We are getting tantalizingly close to that date and we are hoping that we are going to be able to celebrate with the government and WHO.
“We have just come from a meeting with the NGF and we would be having a meeting with the Vice President and we would be saying: at this last moment when we are so close we need continued Nigerian leadership and support to meet the deadline.
“The risk when you get so close and people don’t see any case is that there would be a slowdown in vaccination campaigns.
“You have to keep vaccinating every child as long as there is any polio case anywhere in the world.
“We have also seen in the last few months unfortunately some cases of when you have very low immunization rates, lower than expected, you see a spread of some related polio.
“We have seen this in around 16 Nigerian states in the last 6 months where vaccination rates dropped below 50 per cent.
“We have had a good meeting with the governors forum and a strong commitment from them that they will redouble their efforts to make sure that we do up the vaccination rates and meet that deadline,” he said.
He urged the governments at all level to follow through with their commitment by fully funding the polio campaigns for the remaining few months to the issuance of the WHO certificate.
He greatly commended the governments at all levels for the amazing work that had been done so far, stressing that it was only through good leadership that the nation had come thus far in the fight.
He added that the foundation was already delving into other areas, including agriculture, that it would be focusing on after the total eradication of polio by September.
Suzman stressed that polio cases had nothing to do with insecurity but with non-commitment to the vaccination campaigns.
With specific examples of Lagos and Ogun which also recently recorded cases of the different type of polio that is not endemic, the Foundation’s president said that what is needed was commitment to vaccinate every child or at least 80 per cent of them until the virus is eradicated.
“It has been the lack of full energy about the revaccination campaigns, all we need to do is to go and do emergency campaigns where there have been cases.
“Nigeria had been doing that but in the last few months we have seen slippages where some times the immunisation rates and campaigns dropped below 50 per cent.
“That is the point where we want to see the political leadership, where we need a clear commitment from the Nigeria Governors Forum.
“When you are close to the finish line, it’s easy to just get a little bit complacent, we cannot just let up. The risk of a let up just raises the prospect of if we were to get another case of wild polio outbreak then we would be back to square one.
“So far, the news is good, we want you to be optimistic but we also want to be vigilant,” he stressed.
The Country Director of the BMGF, Paulin Basinga said that the foundation was the biggest funder of the Nigerian government’s efforts to eradicate polio.
Basinga also clarified that the programme was domiciled in the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), an agency of the Nigerian government.
“The NPHCDA leads the polio intervention not the gates foundation, we are one of the biggest funder but the government of Nigeria is the one pushing that.
“The surge of the cases that you have been seeing is not wild polio, the wild polio that we are supporting the government to eradicate we have never seen any since close to three years.
“By September 2019 it would be three years since we have seen the wild polio so we are really waiting to celebrate that big achievement for the Nigerian government.”
He corroborated that there was need for the children to be vaccinated up to 80 per cent so that everyone could be protected.
He also attributed the rare cases of polio which are being seen now to low level of vaccination.
“In some states where you have low level of immunization, some very rare form of polio would come and that is what we are seeing now.
“It started in Jigawa and it has gone to Bauchi and it has reached 16 states now including Lagos, including Ogun, including Osun.
“What the governments need to do in those states is to revaccinate kids quickly and then that rare case would disappear,” he said.