Recently, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Federal Republic of Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a loan facility to the tune of 85 million US dollars. The loan given to Nigeria by Japan is to help eradicate polio in the country.
According to Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, the loan is part of international support to the national polio eradication programme to ensure vaccine availability for the polio campaign from June 2014. He added that the loan would serve as a guarantee for the procurement of the vaccines for polio campaign by UNICEF.
Prof. Chukwu, who was speaking during the signing ceremony of the loan in Abuja, said the objective of the polio eradication project was to optimise the immunisation of children under five years against polio and thereby contribute to the eradication of polio in the whole country. He added that Nigeria had recorded significant achievements in 2013 in the eradication of poliomyelitis with, at least, 58 per cent reduction in the number of wild polio virus (WPV) cases compared to 2012, adding that the federal government was committed to interrupting polio transmission in Nigeria in 2014.
Ordinarily, any effort aimed at eradicating poliomyelitis, a viral disease caused by the wild polio virus (WPV), in Nigeria should not only be commended but fully supported. This is not just because of the untold havoc the disease has wreaked and is still wreaking on the lives of children but because recent statistics on the disease shows that Nigeria still holds the unenviable record of having 94 per cent of the world’s polio cases – with virtually all the cases concentrated in the northern part of the country. Pakistan and Afghanistan jointly account for the remaining six per cent of polio cases in the world.
Nigeria is also reported to be the only country with on-going transmission of all three serotypes: wild poliovirus type 1, wild polio virus type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived polio virus type 2.
Still, it is debatable whether taking a loan of 85 million dollars from Japan is the way to go in our quest to finally exit the ignoble league of polio endemic nations. While we acknowledge that taking loans is a very practical way of raising funds for vital projects, the Nigerian government must tread carefully in taking foreign loans to avoid plunging the nation into unnecessary indebtedness that will become a problem for coming generations.
It would be recalled that the Nigerian government, in 2006, had to pay almost 20 billion US dollars to two international syndicates – the Paris and London Club of creditors – to settle foreign debts in order to get about 18 billion US dollars debt relief from our creditors. Until that was done, Nigeria was groaning under a huge debt burden. The country must avoid falling back into the same quagmire.
It must also be emphasised that with the mammoth support the nation has repeatedly received from Rotary International and other partners like WHO and UNICEF over the years for polio eradication campaigns, factors other than inadequate funding are evidently more culpable for our inability to kick out polio from Nigeria.
It is our view that aside strengthening the polio immunisation programme through provision of adequate vaccines, other challenges, such as insecurity of health workers in the affected states during immunisation exercise, ignorance of some citizens on the benefits and safety of the polio vaccines and lack of support for the immunisation exercise by some traditional, spiritual and community leaders in the affected northern states should be surmounted to succeed in our polio eradication efforts.
It is equally important to focus more energy on containing the polio virus in the few areas of the country still affected and ensure it doesn’t spread to other areas. The experience of India in 2012 when it decisively won the battle against the disease has made it clear that success is achievable.
What is required is a strong political will, not only to ensure adequate funding but also judicious and conscientious spending, so as not to continue to pour scarce resources down the drain. Consistent and coordinated mass enlightenment campaigns for locals, proper and strategic surveillance exercises, enlistment of the support of opinion leaders, as well guaranteeing the safety of immunisation staff, are other significant factors that will facilitate and expedite our polio eradication goal.
Ridding Nigeria of polio is not so much about perpetual borrowing and spending as about genuine commitment to pragmatic actions.