In August, the Nigerian government announced the discovery of two new cases of wild polio (WPV) virus in Borno State. The new cases were of two children from Gwoza and Jere Local Government Areas of the state.
The Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, while confirming the outbreak, said the discovery was due to strengthened surveillance aided by improved accessibility – apparently facilitated by recent military action, which helped liberate more communities in the North-East of Nigeria.
The minister disclosed that the nation has activated the national emergency response team, comprising government and partners to Borno State, for immediate and robust polio vaccination campaign, targeting eligible children to prevent the spread of the virus within and beyond Nigeria.
Unfortunately, one other case aside from the previous two has since been confirmed by WHO in Monguno LGA. It was that of a two-year-old boy found in the internally displaced persons’ camp in Borno State.
This fresh outbreak of polio is no doubt a big setback to polio eradication efforts in Nigeria, Africa and by extension the whole world. It is particularly saddening because the world had been eagerly waiting to certify Nigeria polio free after two years without a reported case of polio in the country. If Nigeria had managed to sustain this status the country would have been set to be declared polio free by next year, 2017. This plan has now gone with the wind as the country is obviously back to square one.
Still, I must say that the rapid response of the Nigerian government, as articulated by the health minister is commendable; the renewed massive vaccination effort targeted at five million children in Borno and surrounding areas will be crucial to containing this fresh outbreak. More importantly, however, I think it is imperative to look into how to avoid this type of situation in future. The fact is that we have been moving around in circles for too long in our bid to rid this nation of polio.
The ongoing Boko Haram insurgency has been conveniently cited as a major reason for this outbreak, as the crisis prevented vaccination personnel from reaching some parts of the north. The fact, however, is that the government should have made reaching those difficult places a top priority, knowing that it was crucial to the eradication effort.
This setback is an indication that we have to rethink not just our polio eradication campaign but our approaches to disease containment and control strategies in Nigeria. We cannot be applying the same shoddy tactics and yet expect a different result.
Having recorded a huge success in our polio eradication efforts and got to the brink of exiting the ignominious league of countries with polio, I think the Nigerian government should have been more proactive in ensuring a decisive end to the malaise.
We have to be more ingenious in solving our national problems and be consistently pragmatic in tackling our health issues. We cannot continue to be reactive when we have outbreaks like polio which eventually gulp millions of dollars and embarrass us among comity of nations.