2015 election threatens Nigeria’s polio eradication drive
As Nigeria prepares for the 2015 general elections, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Dr Oyewale Tomori said over concentration on the election by politicians and government officials could rob the country of other vital progresses, while causing setback for Nigeria’s fight against child killer diseases and target of interrupting polio in December 2014. ABDULRAHEEM AODU reports
Nigeria has set 2014 as the magical year for the country to interrupt the spread of wild poliovirus (WPV). But 2014 is the eve of another general election. Eradicating polio would enable the federal government redirect over $30 million budgeted annually to fight the scourge to another killer disease probably malaria.
Politicians both in and out of government are anticipating a must-win election come next year, consequently many of them are already focusing on the elections taking their eyes of their primary duty of governance.
Curbing the spread of polio this year would enable the development partners and other global organisations such as Rotary International, DFID and USAID concentrate their efforts and aids to other child killer diseases. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would also be able to concentrate more resources in its development of malaria vaccine and other such development activity.
The drive by various stakeholders including journalists under the aegis of Journalists Initiative on Immunisation Against Polio (JAP) to interrupt the spread of polio by the end of the year may be affected adversely by the 2015 general elections according to the Chairman of the Expert Review Committee on Polio Eradication in Nigeria and President of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences, Dr Oyewale Tomori.
The Academy of Science and Development Communication (DEVCOM) had only last month raised alarm that the concentration on 2015 coupled with Nigeria’s inability to prevent new polio cases in 2014 due to the expected shortage of oral polio vaccine would have multiplier effects on 7 million Nigerian children under the age of five.
Tomori in an interview said though Nigeria is so close to interrupting the spread of polio, the successes may be undone by the 2015 general elections, as the country usually records setback in the fight against polio in the year before general elections.
He added that the greatest challenge to the polio eradication drive in 2014 would be the preparations for the 2015 elections.
Nigeria’s polio programme doing well
He said, “The Nigerian polio programme is doing much better and this has resulted in the progress recorded so far. Between January and September 2012, Nigeria reported 101 cases of polio in 13 states and 70 local government areas, compared to 49 cases in nine states and 26 LGAs for the same period in 2013.
“For the first time, except for Kano state, no polio cases have been reported in most parts of the northwestern states in the last year. So far, in 2014, there has been only one wild polio case in the country, reported from Gaya LGA, Kano state, with onset on February 1.
“Behind this progress is improved national coverage of three doses of trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV), which increased from 73% in 2012 to 84% during January-September 2013. The nationwide proportion of children aged 6-35 months with non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) who have received four or more doses of OPV increased from 75% in 2012 to 87% in 2013.
“However, in the northeastern parts of Nigeria, the high level of insecurity has hampered supplementary immunization activities (SIA) and created huge surveillance gaps, making it difficult to confidently determine the state of polio eradication in the area.”
According to Dr. Tomori, the programme used new methods to evaluate SIA data and implemented special interventions to improve performance in high-risk LGAs. For example, community leaders (including traditional and religious leaders) became polio eradication advocates, working in the community to counter anti–vaccination lobbies and threats of violence.
In areas where noncompliance was particularly high, polio survivors joined campaigns to highlight the permanent risks associated with polio. The programme also established temporary mobile health camps during SIAs to help reach children with vaccines and simultaneously address other primary healthcare needs.
2015 elections biggest challenges to Nigeria’s polio programme.
Dr. Tomori said the greatest challenge to the polio programme in 2014 will be the preparations for the 2015 elections. “Currently, the election is the only thing that matters in Nigeria. Every election year since 2003 has been characterized by abandonment of good governance, and subsequently accompanied by a surge in polio cases.
“We are so close to victory. In 2010, Nigeria recorded only 48 cases of polio, but because we did not press victory to the end, we recorded 95 cases in 2011 and 130 cases in 2012. We suffered and continue to suffer as one of only three nations that have never stopped the transmission of polio (Pakistan and Afghanistan are the other two countries).”
The scientist called on the media, civil society organizations, parents, and academics to call governments’ attention to health in general and polio eradication in particular, saying, “we must not allow the 2015 election to set Nigeria back in the race to eradicate polio. It is important for all stakeholders to ensure that the polio eradication programme is not neglected.
“The election is the only thing that matters. Every election year since 2003 has been characterized by abandonment of good governance, and subsequently accompanied by a surge in polio cases.”
“So far in 2014, there has been only one wild polio case in the country, reported from Gaya LGA, Kano state, with onset on February 1. Between January and September 2012, Nigeria reported 101 cases of polio in 13 states and 70 LGAs, compared to 49 cases in nine states and 26 LGAs for the same period in 2013. Except for Kano state, no polio cases have been reported in most parts of the northwestern states in the last year.
The strategies to overcome the challenges
Dr Tomori lauded the introduction of the polio Emergency Operation Centers (EOC) at national and state levels noting that it has allowed for real-time assessment, evaluation and response to field situations.
He also commended, “the deployment of interagency support teams at the ward level that has improved supervision of SIA activities, while accountability officers ensured the proper use of funds and increased local accountability.
“The programme used global positioning systems (GPS) to help implement microplans and track vaccination teams during SIAs.”
“The latest and greatest beneficiary of the polio activities in Nigeria is routine immunization (RI). In the past, RI was abandoned and neglected. The polio programme recognized that ending polio and strengthening immunization went hand in hand, and in 2012 made serious efforts to ensure that eradication programmes enhance RI.
“Today, the country is reaping the benefits of high RI coverage, evident in the much reduced number of polio cases. The health camps established along with the SIAs are also providing other health care services.