Just a little above a year ago, we recorded about 6 cases which dented our relentless efforts to see that no child gets infected again by this crippling disease.
Seeing children of walking ages crawling around when their mates in other parts of the world are running rends the hearts of health workers, and palpitates the heart of every sane person at the sight of it. Celebrating one year without new polio cases should also be seen as an opportunity to redoubling our efforts toward maintaining the status quo.
According to a health worker with Anambra state ministry of Health, Mrs. Adline Ekpunobi, “polio has no place in 21st century but it is an unfortunate reality that we still fight it today. If everybody should act as a stakeholder that we all are, polio will be vanquished in record time because no child is safe as far as there is polio infection somewhere on earth.”
Achieving one year of no polio in our battle to end polio was not by fluke. We got to this point, not just with the vaccines but also through relentless and tireless million man-hours’ work done by thousands of health workers, intervention of religious and traditional leaders, the voice of opinion leaders, policies of government at all levels, support of Rotary International and donor Foundations like The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation whose Founder Sir Emeka Offor is Rotary International Polio Ambassador to Nigeria, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and so many others.
These foundations through their eleemosynary gifts, donated millions of dollars for the purpose of polio eradication. The input of health workers towards ending polio can never be over emphasized and needs to be understood and appreciated. Health workers traverse dangerous terrains of North East and creeks of Niger Delta to reach the unreached children.
They have been butchered by terrorists in their bid to inoculate children in remotest corners of the country. These health workers leave their loved ones at home for distant field work, not sure of returning. While on the field, they have to surmount challenges posed by illiterate and doubting parents, communities and general insecurity.
In spite of these daunting challenges however, strategies and efforts were redoubled to making sure Nigeria is put on the road to not only being certified polio free but remaining polio free. Polio cases not being recorded in the last one year is the result of these efforts.
If Nigeria maintains this tempo of no polio cases till 2017, she will attain a polio free rating by World Health Organization (WHO). What an extraordinary achievement and a powerful symbol of progress this will add to the efforts of stakeholders especially health workers who go into the field facing the difficult terrains.
Globally, we are on the verge of ending polio, though the disease still persists in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two other countries on the list of endemic nations as Nigeria. But with one year of no polio cases, Nigeria is on its way out of this group.
It is no surprise that Pakistan and Afghanistan are already sending their health workers to Nigeria to understudy how we were able to achieve this feat, knowing that the three countries have relatively the same social security problems.
It is a great plus to Nigeria’s image to have something worth emulating by the other two endemic countries. It is equally a plus to present health workers in Nigeria, who are on the verge of making history. This also goes beyond record attainment but will definitely benefit the future generation, whose children will no longer face this crippling disease.
For this milestone to be complete, two years must pass without a case of wild poliovirus before Nigeria will be certified polio free. Nigeria’s certification will inevitably make the African continent a polio free continent. To achieve this goal, Nigeria and the rest of Africa who are at risk must increase effort, maintain high quality surveillance, support health workers to work harder and improve routine immunization.
More efforts and sustained campaign and actions are required from global community to ensure that eradication of polio is global and not just a Nigerian or African target. Pakistan and Afghanistan should get every assistance possible to bring them on board where their neighbor India, reached 3 years ago. We should give all the needed support to our health workers to making sure that we do not relapse or record any polio case after all these celebrations.
The same vigor we displayed during our fight against Ebola should be fully deployed now against polio to completely defeat it once and for all. Sierra Lone recently celebrated Ebola free status only to record another Ebola death 3 weeks after. This is the reason we should not drop our guards especially as donor agencies like the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, the Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have all reiterated their commitment to the provision of funds and logistics.
Polio has been taking its tolls on the human race until 1789 when an English physician, Michael Underwood came up with a clinical description of this crippling disease by describing it as “a debility of the lower extremities”. At other times, the research work on the disease by Jakob Heine in 1840 and Karl Oskar in 1890 gave it a new nomenclature Heine-Medin disease.
The disease was later called infantile paralysis, based on its propensity to affect children but today we know it as poliomyelitis. The world has seen diseases and had equally eradicated lots of them in the past but polio appears to be impregnable when only the governments was in the fight.
But since the entrance of private organizations, polio has been brought to its knees and will soon be totally obliterated from the face of the earth. The fight to see the world free of polio continues till the zero hour.
Obi Ebuka Onochie can be reached via [email protected]