Nigeria: The long crawl to polio eradication — Op-Ed
Editor’s Note: Today’s piece is an OpEd from renowned Virologist and Chair of Nigeria Expert Review Committee on Poliomyelitis Eradication and Routine Immunisation, Prof. Oyewole Tomori. This World Immunisation Week, he explores Nigeria’s long road towards polio eradication and gives insights into exactly how far we still have to go before we can confidently assert that Nigeria is no longer polio-endemic.
The theme for the 1995 World Health Day, on April 7, 1995, was “Target 2000 — A World Without Polio”. As part of the celebrations for the day, a lecture titled “Polio Eradication Race: Will Nigeria Finish last?”, was delivered at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA) Victoria Island, Lagos.
Now, 34 years later, the question is not whether Nigeria will finish last in Africa, she is already the last country in Africa to interrupt the transmission of polio, but the question now is, will she be the last to do so globally? Nigeria’s race to polio eradication has been a long and a slow obstacle race, a tortoise walk hampered by at least four self-inflicted obstacles.
First, Nigeria’s immunisation framework was erected on the sandy foundation of low coverage, a rickety edifice built with massive under-funding, uncaring attitude, casual neglect and careless abandon. Second, Nigeria began serious polio eradication activities very late — almost 20 years after the initial World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution calling for the global eradication of polio, and about 5 years to the initial eradication target of the year 2000. Third, some 16 years ago, precisely in 2003, we got diverted by the polio vaccine boycott which lasted for a little over a year, with far reaching and devastating consequences. Fourth and finally, the Boko Haram insurgency became the Achilles’ heel in Nigeria’s long and delayed finish of the polio eradication race.
While we may have gained ground over our late start and perhaps overcome the diversion of the polio vaccine boycott, the ending of the insurgency is the only thing that can see us through to the end of the race. In addition, by not addressing the issue of routine immunisation, we may somehow see off polio through unending supplementary immunisation activities but lose the big wars against other vaccine preventable…