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Hurrah!

Nigeria’s recent commemoration of three years without the occurrence of the wild polio virus is an incredibly significant achievement. It simultaneously marks a triumph over medical, cultural, political and security obstacles, and offers vital lessons on tackling similar challenges, going forward.
Perhaps the most immediate benefit is the country’s impending removal from the disgracefully small list of the three nations in the world where the wild polio virus still exists; now, only Afghanistan and Pakistan bear the unwelcome tag of polio laggards. Then there is the obvious advantage of saving thousands of children from lives blighted by a dreadful ailment that has ruined the prospects of many and brought so much misery to whole communities.
This achievement will enable the Africa Regional Commission for Certification of Polio Eradication (ARCC) to undertake a comprehensive check of all nations in the continent to confirm that each is polio-free. Nigeria is to submit its final data for evaluation in March, next year, if no new wild polio cases emerge. When this happens, Africa will receive formal wild polio-free certification by the middle of 2020.
It has been a truly epic struggle for Nigeria. For three decades, human and material resources have been poured into the anti-polio campaign. Apart from the logistical complexities involved in carrying out immunisations of millions of children in the continent’s most populous country, there were the problems of contending with the hostility of misinformed communities who were convinced that it was all a sinister plot to sterilise them. As if that was not enough, the outbreak of the Boko Haram insurgency made it extremely difficult to get to vulnerable children in areas where the insurgents were active.
Tribute must be paid to the health workers, volunteers, traditional rulers, leaders of thought and government officials whose unceasing efforts made this accomplishment possible. Also deserving of gratitude are development partners and donor agencies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union (EU), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, Rotary International and the World Bank.
This victory over polio in Nigeria is a testimony to the power of international cooperation without concession to nationality, race, selfish geopolitical considerations, and religious or political views. It is a sobering lesson in what can be achieved when empathy combines with generosity, determination and discipline to attain set targets.
Even as the nation and its partners celebrate, however, there is still more work to do. Routine immunisation regimens must still be strictly adhered to, as any slowing-down could easily lead to the re-emergence of wild polio. A 95 per cent vaccination target is essential to success. The continuing activities of Boko Haram, as well as the rash of herdsmen-settler disturbances, only conspire to make this vital task more difficult.
The World Health Organization (WHO) will also have to confirm that Nigeria has established a solid surveillance system to ensure that there are no more cases of wild polio. This requires the continued efficient functioning of all the agencies and parastatals combatting the disease, and their smooth cooperation with the ministries and donors who oversee and fund their activities.
As Nigeria marks three years without the occurrence of the wild polio virus, it is vital that the country learn the lessons of its long battle against the crippling ailment and ensure that they are applied to other health challenges. In this regard, malaria, cholera and Lassa fever, in particular, must be fought with similar determination and tenacity.

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