No fewer than 100,000 children in Nigeria’s Northeast geopolitical zone are currently at risk of polio, as they have yet to be immunized against the virus.
This setback is as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in that part of the country.
Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, who disclosed this at the annual meeting of African Regional Certification Commission for Poliomyelitis Eradication (ARCC), in Abuja on Monday, said this is despite the government making considerable progress in immunisation programmes in the region.
He pointed out that Africa had made remarkable process towards eradicating poliomyelitis, noting that in 2012, the African region reported 128 wild poliovirus (WPV) cases, which accounted for more than half of the global burden but by 2013, only about 76 cases were reported; with a further decline to 17 cases in 2014 and no reported case in 2015.
“Nonetheless, in 2016, after almost two years, four cases were confirmed from areas that were under Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State in Nigeria and the outbreak was successfully contained,” he said.
The minister attributed Nigeria’s continued listing among the polio endemic countries to the inaccessibility of some areas in the northeast to the polio programme.
Chairperson of the ARCC, Rose Leke, in her address, emphasised the need to strengthen surveillance in most countries and high level of routine polio immunisation across board, to successfully eradicate polio from the region.
According to her it was imperative to carry out surveillance as polio can be imported across borders leading to a resurgence of cases in other countries, especially if their children are poorly immunised and have low immunity against the disease, adding that Nigeria can effectively eradicate polio with high surveillance and increased levels of immunisation across the country.
“In spite of the insecurity, Nigeria has done a lot. The northeastern area had vast risk but the government has been able to go in and little by little it is closing up.
“There are just about 100,000-200,000 children that are yet to be reached. We just have to be careful and cannot say anything for now on when the country will be polio free until we are certain we have covered up the remain region in the country,” she said.
The chairperson called on state governments to step up efforts in routine immunisation programme, saying current efforts are still very low in Nigeria.
“State governments need to collaborate with the (federal) government to achieve high immunisation coverage. Some of them have not been cooperative, this has to change.
“If the community immunisation is low, the tendency of being infected with the virus is very high. We can have importation of polio across the continent, so we want to have quality surveillance and strengthen routine immunisation in many countries that are not yet doing very well.”
The meeting, which is being attended by participants from across Africa and development partners, is scheduled to review the progress and update reports prepared by Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Angola, South Sudan, Central Africa republic, Mauritania and Nigeria in polio eradication activities.
The five-day meeting will also discuss national preparedness and response plans to polio events/outbreaks; and updated reports on polio laboratory containment activities.