Nigeria at high risk of re-detecting polio, FG says

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From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

The Federal Government has raised the alarm that the deadly Wild Polio Virus might resurface in Nigeria, and that might be more disastrous and catastrophic for the country and its health care system.

The alarm follows the recent detection of Wild Polio Virus in Malawi in February and the increasing circulation of Variant Polio Virus type 2 (cVPV2) which has been detected in 29 states.

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To this end, the government said it has “dusted up” documents used previously used to fight Polio that resulted in Nigeria being declared polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020.

It has also assembled experts that would review the documents and other measures taken previously, with the view to making additions or subtraction to the documents to respond to Polio and other pandemics.

Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Centre (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, who spoke at the 38th meeting of the Expert Review Committee (ERC) in Abuja, on Monday, said that Nigeria plays a “big brother” role in Africa, hence movement into Nigeria is not often restricted.

He recalled that recommendations from the 37th ERC meeting in 2019, resulted in appreciable progress in both routine immunization and the control of circulating Variant Polio Virus type 2 (cVPV2).

He said: “for routine immunization, Nigeria is steadily improving from the 33 per cent coverage in 2016 to 56 per cent in 2022 according to the latest MICS/NICS report. We recognize that before the pandemic we had reached 71 per cent within two years.

“However, the cVDPV2, has been a major concern and today, the outbreak has snow-balled to even greater proportions to become one of the greatest challenges the country has faced in the polio programme, apart from the recent detection of Wild Polio Virus type 1 (WPV1) in Malawi in February, and WPV 3 report in Israel a few weeks ago.

“This brings it very close to home, and that it is not over until it is over. The report from Malawi indicates that we must strengthen our system in order to avoid an outbreak of WPV in Nigeria.

“The 37th ERC offered us guidance on how to contain cVPV2 spread, which has unfortunately now spread more to affect 29 States of the federation and FCT, including states in the Southern zones of the country.

“One of this guidance was the use of novel Oral Polio vaccine (nOPV2) which has been shown to be effective in halting the spread of cVPV2. So far, all 36 States and FCT have completed at least two rounds of nOPV2. 18 states have completed at least four rounds of nOPV2 outbreak response, three states have completed three rounds, while an additional 16 states have completed at least two rounds of nOPV2 Outbreak response.”

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Dr Shuaib maintained that the surveillance system has remained robust despite the global COVID-19 pandemic that had a negative impact on the health system.

“In 2020, our surveillance detected 22 cases of CDVPV2; in 2021, 1, 027 cases; and in 2022, 11 cases have already been detected. The figures may look scary, but it’s a demonstration that our surveillance system is effective, reliable and also means that if there is a Wild Polio Virus in circulation, it would have been detected.”

He confirmed that COVID-19 has impacted negatively not only on the economy, social lives, but also the immunization programme, where planned campaigns were suspended to address the pandemic.

Chairman of the Expert Review Committee, Prof. Akin Osibogun, in his remarks, confirmed that Nigeria is faced with the challenge of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) which has been compounded by the threat from the recent report of the detection of the wild poliovirus in Malawi.

He said: “Given the ease of human travel, it has become imperative for us to bring the Nigerian polio eradication programme thus far. Nigeria has fought a long and hard battle with the wild poliovirus before its certification as wild poliovirus free country.

“With the recent wild poliovirus type 1 in Malawi, it has become imperative for us to urgently put in place strategies to prevent importation of the virus. The reconstitution of this expert review committee is one of such strategies and the leadership of the NPHCDA must be commended for being proactive.”

He explained that the objective cut for the committee is essential to advise on strategies to prevent re-introduction of wild poliovirus in Nigeria and end the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus in Nigeria through the strengthening of the immunization programme, AFP surveillance, community mobilization and advocacy, environmental monitoring and other appropriate strategies.

He was confident that the experts would be able to achieve the desired goal which is to ensure all eligible children are reached irrespective of their location in the country.

He explained that the ERC meeting will afford them the opportunity to review the progress and implementation status of the recommendations made from the 37th ERC.

“We have the opportunity to look at those challenges that have lingered in the programme and proffer lasting solutions in order for us to retain our certification status.”

He confirmed that the Federal Government and other levels of government in Nigeria have shown commitment to helping the country earn the wild polio-free certification. “It’s important we sustain that commitment so that our earlier gains are not lost,” he advised.

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