By Ryan Hyland
It’s been three years since health officials last reported a case of polio caused by the wild poliovirus in Nigeria. The milestone, reached on 21 August, means that it’s possible for the entire World Health Organization (WHO) African region to be certified wild poliovirus-free next year.
Nigeria’s success is the result of several sustained efforts, including domestic and international financing, the commitment of thousands of health workers, and strategies to immunize children who previously couldn’t be reached because of a lack of security in the country’s northern states.
“Rotary, its Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners, and the Nigerian government have strengthened immunization and disease detection systems,” says Michael K. McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. He adds: “We are now reaching more children than ever in some of the hardest-to-reach places in Nigeria.”
McGovern says Rotary members in Nigeria play an important role in ridding the country of the disease. “Rotarians have been hard at work raising awareness for polio eradication, advocating with the government, and addressing other basic health needs to complement polio eradication efforts, like providing clean water to vulnerable communities.”
Nigeria is the last country in Africa where polio is endemic. Once Africa is certified as free of the wild poliovirus, five of the WHO’s six regions will be free of wild polio. Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which means transmission of the virus has never been stopped.
Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee, acknowledges the milestone but cautions Rotary members about celebrating too soon. He cites the challenge of making certain that routine immunizations reach every child in Nigeria.
“It’s paramount that we ensure all doors are locked to the re-entry of the wild poliovirus into our country,” says Funsho.
Funsho says to achieve this, Rotary needs to maintain strong advocacy efforts, continue to increase awareness of immunization campaigns, and ensure members raise necessary funds. Rotary has contributed $268 million to fight polio in Nigeria.
“As the first organization to dream of a polio-free world, Rotary is committed to fulfilling our promise,” says McGovern. “Our progress in Nigeria is a big step toward that goal, but we need to maintain momentum so that Pakistan and Afghanistan see the same level of progress.”