What The Minister Did Not Tell Us

The 65th World Health General Assembly which held in Geneva, Switzerland in May this year may have come and gone but not without some memories.

At last year’s General Assembly, Nigeria got rave reviews, commendation and applause for its track record in its fight against polio.

In fact, the man at the helm of affairs then at the agency saddled with the task of implementing the federal government’s policy on polio eradication in the country, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Muhammad Ali Pate received a standing ovation for his efforts.

The co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr Bill Gates while addressing the assembly, dedicated at least two pages to commend Pate and Nigeria and how he looked forward to signing the minister of state for Health’s daughter’s year book every year.

But the tide of good will changed so fast for Nigeria.  This time, it was knocks and condemnations.

Polio cases continue to soar since 2010 to 2011 in Nigeria by 185%, with the most dramatic rise in the second half of 2011.

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Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only three countries globally sharing the polio burden.

In an op-ed that featured in newspapers in May this year, the UN Secretary- General, Ban Ki-Moon said, “Today, the flame of polio is near extinction – but sparks in three countries threaten to ignite a global blaze.”

This underscores the risk that endemic poliovirus transmission continues to pose globally.

In a note entitled, ‘funding gap threatens progress against polio’, Mark Leon Golberg from the World Health Organisation (WHO),stated, “Polio spreads very easily – it’s the nature of the virus. The re-importation of polio to previously polio-free countries will occur unless nearly 100% of all children receive vaccination. That requires sustained funding. In Nigeria, polio is endemic in the northern part of the country which has a weak health care system and suffers from persistent insecurity”

The World Health General Assembly presided over by the Director- General of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan was quite incensed given Nigeria’s deplorable polio- card report.

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I was told the Nigerian contingent, led by the Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, literarily got whipped on their asses for taking a “nap” while the world, including Indian which is about 10 times the population size of Nigeria, has succeeded in eradicating polio.

What is perhaps, a worrisome upward trend is that more than 50 per cent of this year’s polio cases worldwide are from Nigeria with the country contributing 90 per cent to the polio- burden in Africa.

According to a UNICEF report, as of June 8, 2012, Nigeria has recorded 43 cases of wild poliovirus in 10 states compared to 20 cases in six states for the same period in 2011.

In key infected states like Borno, Kano, Sokoto and Yobe, more than one in three children has received less than four doses of oral polio vaccine.

Polio-free states like Kaduna and Niger were re-infected in 2012 while quality routine services were noted to have further deteriorated.

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For DTP3, for example, coverage plummeted in 2011 with the number of unimmunized infants increasing by 55% compared to 2010. An estimated 2.7

million Nigerian infants were completely unvaccinated in 2011.

According to UNICEF, there were also central stock-outs of four of the eight childhood vaccines last year.

Now, the WHO has decided to weld the big stick. It has threatened diplomatic sanctions if Nigeria fails to arrest the polio upsurge in the country this year.

And just like the Yellow Card, it says Nigerians would be mandated to present Polio Card at airports and sea ports before entering other countries if the situation persists.

Did I hear you say, it serves us right?

Well, only time will tell.

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