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Nigeria edges towards polio elimination
November 5, 2017, 1:51 pm

Nigeria joined the rest of the world in marking this year’s World Polio day on 24 October with renewed hope that transmission of the deadly virus in the country could be halted by the end of this year.

While no new cases of polio were detected in Nigeria so far this year, there were four incidents of polio infections in 2016. The reemergence of polio, a vicious disease that primarily affects children and leaves them severely disabled, underscores the tenacity of the virus, and the need for continued surveillance to the risks posed by low-level undetected transmission.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, 2017 has seen the lowest case count of polio in recorded history, but the job is still far from over with the diseases still exerting its tenacious grip on three countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Universal polio immunization in Nigeria still remains intractably unattainable for a number of reasons. One is the ongoing conflict; of the four new cases reported in 2016, three were in Borno state, in Nigeria’s conflict ravaged northeast region. Deviant terrorist groups in the area have destroyed over 75 percent of basic infrastructure, including health facilities that store and provide polio vaccines to children. As a result, a large swathe of Nigeria's most vulnerable children have been denied access to polio vaccinations, a cheap and simple preventative measure.

Another hurdle to universal immunization is the inadequate monitoring systems that track which immunizations people have received and ensure that a patient's vaccinations are up-to-date. Nigeria suffers a severe lack of personal health records, rendering health statistics a product of mere guess work. In the absence of effective recordkeeping, it is nearly impossible to ensure proper access and delivery of vaccines, or hold parents that fail to provide vaccines to their children accountable.

One solution to the problems facing polio immunization, as well as that of other preventable diseases, is the implementation of universal primary healthcare. Primary healthcare forms the cornerstone of basic health provision and, when present, is typically the area of healthcare responsible for immunizing local populations. It must therefore be prioritized, to give all people access to basic healthcare provisions, including crucial vaccinations.

For universal primary healthcare to be implemented Nigeria needs to properly fund its healthcare system. In 2001, all members of the African Union pledged 15 percent of national spending to healthcare in the Abuja Declaration. Ironically, Abuja has not met this commitment, only spending a third of the pledged 15 percent on health care.

Fortunately, since the new polio cases were reported in 2016, there has been a renewed immunization drive. The international community and Nigerian government are set to vaccinate as many as 30 million children against polio. This drive must be sustained, and there is no room for complacency.

The reemergence of polio in Nigeria is tragic, but it should be used as an impetus to address healthcare shortcomings and ensure greater government commitment to the sector to eradicate polio once and for all from the country.

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