Nigeria on Wednesday marked three years without a case of wild polio virus transmission on record, bringing it closer to getting certified for being polio free.
The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) called it a “historic milestone for polio eradication in Nigeria and the global community” but warned against complacency.
NPHCDA executive director, Faisal Shuaib, said eradicating all types of wild polio virus would be “one of the greatest achievements in human history.”
“It will have a lasting, positive impact on the African continent and the world’s health system for generations to come.”
A certification committee will submit an assemblage of Nigeria’s data on surveillance, routine immunisation and supplemental immunisation to the African Regional Certification Commission of the World Health Organisation by March 2020.
The regional committee will also receive from countries in the region for evaluation to confirm if they are polio free.
If the cases remain zero, then the Africa region will be certified polio free by June 2020.
Officer-in-charge of the World Health Organisation, Peter Clement, says the next six months towards evaluation of Nigeria’s documentation were the “most critical”.
Nigeria has previously gone two years without wild polio but the progress was set back when the virus was isolated in a child in Monguno, Borno state, in a region where insurgency had made it impossible to vaccinate children for long.
That date 21 August 2016 marked the start of another three-year countdown to 2019.
Experts who worked in campaign programmes against polio have pointed to the possibility of the three-year euphoria breeding complacency.
“The danger is complacency. We must keep the programme on the front burner,” said Tunji Funsho, chairman of the Nigeria National Polio Plus Committee.
“I appeal to everyone to see this as the beginning of another journey. Polio is just a plane ride away for this country as long as there is a place in the world where the virus is still circulating.”
If the African region is certified, only the Eastern Mediterranean region—with the virus still circulating in Afghanistan—will be left of all six WHO regions.
Nigeria must “stay focused while we rejoice,” said Emeka Offor, Rotary International’s polio ambassador to Nigeria.
“Our surveillance and vigilance profile must be raised now. Our activities of advocacy, routine immunisation and field supervision must continue with alacrity as we approach the finish line,” Offor said.