President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday he has fulfilled his pledge to rid Nigeria of the indigenous wild poliovirus. The President made the declaration, as the World Health Organisation, WHO, declared Nigeria and the rest of Africa polio-free via an online event across the continent and beyond.
Speaking at the event, Buhari said he promised Nigerians that he would not hand over a Nigeria with polio to his successor, and has fulfilled that promise. He said: “This is indeed a truly historic event. I recall shortly after assuming office in 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor,” Buhari said “This certification is, therefore, a personal fulfillment of that pledge, not only to Nigerians but to all Africans.”
Congratulatingthe entire continent and the African Union leadership for crossing the finish line, President Buhari said: “At a time when the global community is battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that the requisite political will, investments, and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, will flatten the pandemic curve.
“I can affirm the commitment of all African leaders in this course of action. We must guard this achievement jealously and ensure that we take all necessary steps to prevent the resurgence of this deadly disease”.
The President appreciated the strong partnership and collaboration displayed to deliver this success. He promised the global community that Nigeria will “sustain the momentum and leverage on the lessons learnt from the polio eradication to strengthen our health systems, especially primary healthcare and prioritise health security”.
Speaking at the event, the Chairperson, independent Africa Regional Certification Commission, ARCC, for polio eradication, Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, said in a statement: “Today is a historic day for Africa. The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio eradication, ARCC, is pleased to announce that the region has successfully met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication, with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported in the region for four years.
“The ARCC’s decision comes after an exhaustive, decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunization and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states, which included conducting field verification visits to each country.”
Recall that in 1996, African Heads of State committed to eradicate polio during the Thirty-Second Ordinary Session of the Organisation of African Unity in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Polio was paralysing an estimated 75,000 children, annually, on the African continent at the time. The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, described Africa’s attainment of the wild poliovirus free status as a momentous milestone. She said that future generations of African children could now live free of wild polio.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists.
“I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause. “However, we must stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of the vaccine-derived polio.
“The expertise gained from polio eradication will continue to assist the African region in tackling COVID-19 and other health problems that have plagued the continent for so many years and ultimately move the continent toward universal health coverage. This will be the true legacy of polio eradication in Africa,” she said.
According to the Coordinator of WHO Polio Eradication Programme in the African Region, Dr. Pascal Mkanda, said: “Africa has demonstrated that despite weak health systems, significant logistical and operational challenges across the continent, African countries have collaborated very effectively in eradicating wild polio virus. “With the innovations and expertise that the polio programme has established, I am confident that we can sustain the gains, post-certification, and eliminate cVDPV2.”
The declaration marked the eradication of the second virus from the face of the continent since small pox 40 years ago. The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria. Present at the event were a longlist of WHO officials; Robert Redfield, director, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Rose Leke, chairperson, Africa Regional Certification Commission; Seth Berkley, CEO, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; and some polio survivors.