Nigeria as a polio free country

Ogbonnaya Akoma

On Tuesday, 25 August, 2020, the World Health Organisation finally certified Nigeria free from the wild polio virus that had caused infantile paralysis among the children in the country. Before the certification, Nigeria had been the only country on the continent of Africa that had the wild polio virus out of the fifty-four countries the continent has, and the third country in the world after Afghanistan and Pakistan in Asia. The epoch-making certification has made the entire African continent polio-free now, as Nigeria had not reported any case of the wild polio virus in the last three years preceding the certification.

In the eyes of the people of Nigeria in general and public health practitioners in particular, the certification of Nigeria polio-free at last and after more than thirty years of struggles in that regard is a most welcome development. This is particularly so when one considers the efforts the World Health Organisation and UNICEF in this regard coupled with those of the Federal Ministry of Health, the various state Ministries of Health, the contributions of the primary health care agencies and their managers at the local government level, the role of the traditional and religious leaders nationwide, and the inputs from the other international institutions and non-governmental organisations such as the Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Aliko Dangote Foundation, among many others, that had contributed a lot in human and material resources towards the polio eradication crusade that began in Nigeria in 1988.

However, it is important to understand why it took Nigeria so long to eradicate the wild polio virus and making the country become the only one in Africa where the virus had remained and multiplied for a very long time. The number one is filth. As a disease whose causative organism thrives in filth and spreads quickly through dirty environment, ingesting fecal matters in one way or the other, the use of and drinking contaminated and unwholesome water, as well as through mosquito bites, the polio virus had found the Nigerian environment very conducive and most ideal for multiplication.

This is because filth had taken over the country all along and where mosquitoes, other insects and vermin had multiplied freely. This sorry situation still prevails in our midst today. Refuse heaps litter our cities today where various species of mosquito breed and multiply freely alongside stagnant water and bushy environment that are present everywhere, particularly in the townships and urban areas where the drainages and sewers are always silted that water hardly flows. In these towns and villages, high levels of promiscuous defecation take place as many households lack toilets, latrines and general sanitary conveniences in them.

Apart from the above, efforts are no longer made by government to control mosquito-breeding in our midst as what obtained in the past. In the past, malaria control units were established in the various state ministries of health and health offices in the various local government areas where trained public health personnel were posted to undertake various measures towards the control of mosquitoes in our midst. Such measures included the indexing of mosquito types and determining the infestation rates, periodically spraying the relevant chemicals and paraffin-oils to kill mosquitoes in such areas or to suffocate them and their larvae. The public health personnel further ensured the prohibition of indiscriminate storage of water within living premises so that mosquitoes would not find suitable places for breeding and multiplication; apart from ensuring further that grown weeds were always cut low and sanitary disposal of refuse to control the multiplication of rodents and other reptilian animals.

In other cases, those public health personnel usually made frantic efforts towards ensuring that every living apartment was fly-proofed with the appropriate nets to exclude mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects and vermin. Today, none of these preventive measures are undertaken again to protect public health. All the health managers do are usually at variance with the trite and orthodox ways of controlling environmental filth and mosquitoes in our midst, just as the politicisation of environmental sanitation services is at its apogee throughout the country, and which is why very little has been achieved in this regard with the resultant adverse impact on public health. 

Other reasons why Nigeria lagged behind and came last in eradicating wild polio virus in African include the numerous unethical practices and general misconducts of the various professional health personnel; failure and degenerative lax in administrative processes, resources and financial mismanagement. At various  times in the past, many health managers of the Extended Programme on Immunisation, Expended Programme on Immunisation or the recent National Programme on Immunisation hadbeen accused of committed many professional atrocities such as recruiting and using non-professionally trained and qualified friends, relatives and other manners of people to administer the oral polio vaccines to children, pregnant and child-bearing women during immunisation periods and leaving the professionally trained health personnel in discriminative tendencies and towards self-enrichment.

In other cases, many of our health mangers had been accused of  misappropriating, embezzling or diverting the funds made available for the immunisation of our children, apart from some line officers stealing some of the equipment and materials made available for immunisation, just as some of the motorcycles, deep freezers, general equipment and vehicles donated for immunisation duties had often been misused and or converted into personal uses by those health managers at the federal, state and local government levels of government. 

All the above vices should be checked now to ensure that the wild polio virus does not come back to Nigeria as we continue to immunise our children to boost their immunity against the disease.

About author

Ogbonnaya Akoma

Public health practitioner/public affairs commentator
Trans-Amadi Layout, Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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