Concerted effort towards fight against wild polio resurgence

Although Nigeria was declared polio free years back, but experts say if children born since then are not vaccinated, there might be a resurgence, reason why stakeholders are calling for efforts. BAYO ALABIRA reports.

Just recently, experts in the health sector and United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) renewed calls on policy makers and stakeholders at the community levels in Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states to join hands in the fight against wild poliovirus in order to prevent its re-emergence.

The call came from experts and specialists in polio eradication campaign in collaboration with UNICEF, Kano state government and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Kano.

The one-day media briefing and orientation on polio eradication campaign was organised last week for journalists from Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states.

According to Mr Samuel Kaalu, UNICEF communications specialist in Kano Office, the meeting was organised to train journalists from the three states on how to educate the policy makers and other stakeholders responsible for setting the ball rolling during the polio vaccination and immunisation campaign in the urban and the rural areas of the three states.

It was also disclosed that wild poliovirus has been eradicated and Nigeria was declared polio free since 2020; therefore the need to retain the trophy becomes necessary by continued vaccination of all new borns under five years in order to prevent it from re-surgence.

While gruelling the participating journalists in their separate sessions, the experts said, “Killing the snake at your back-yard without destroying the eggs it laid can still lead to more new born snakes in the house.” So to continue to keep Nigeria free of polio, routine vaccination campaigns have to be sustained.

Dr Ogu Enemaku, a specialist from UNICEF Kano Field Office told the media men that health authorities in many states across the country and their partners have been combatting outbreaks of variant forms of the polio virus. He said as media professionals, journalists have to engage with communities during outbreaks, which needs to be done with a high sense of accountability and responsibility, using some guidelines on how to do it ethically and professionally.

“It’s about using power and resources ethically and responsibly, putting the needs and interests of the people and communities at the centre of decision-making and ensuring the most appropriate and relevant outcomes for them while preserving their rights and dignity and increasing their resilience to face situations of vulnerability and crisis.

“Make decisions and advocate on behalf of vulnerable children, families and their communities, drawing on their views and feedback in ways that respect their rights, dignity and autonomy.

“It means that people including men and women, children and young people have a say in decisions making that affect their lives, receive the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Dr Enemaku.

He advised the journalists from the three states to always protect and respect the rights and sanctity of the people’s concerns by urging the media to engage in awareness creation, infection prevention, limitation of spread, action by key stakeholders and others to save the society from the re-emergence of wild poliovirus.

Enemaku therefore advised that the media should operate within the  objectives of Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

These are to raise awareness, manage risk perception, maintain trust in health authorities and response measures, proactively communicate to support people at risk to make informed decisions to protect themselves and others.

In his presentation, Dr Mohammed Nasir Mahmoud, the director general, Kano State Primary Healthcare Management Board (KSPHMB) also enumerated some key facts on poliomyelitis.

“Poliomyelitis mainly affects children under five years of age.There are three strains of the polio virus, type 1, type 2 and type 3; one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. 

“Among those paralysed, 5–10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised. Cases due to wild polio virus have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries, to just two endemic countries as of October 2023.

“As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in a global resurgence of the disease,” he said.

Mahmoud further explained that economically, polio causes hardship to many nations and it was discovered that the eradication of it would save at least US$ 40–50 billion, mostly in low-income countries. 

Main cause(s) of polio

The DG said polio is a highly infectious disease that is caused by a virus. He pointed out that polio mainly affects children under five years of age; therefore any child of that age who is unvaccinated can contract the disease.

The known symptoms

He said the initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pains in the limbs. Among those paralysed, he said, 5–10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.

“It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. 

Mode of transmission

The virus, disclosed, is transmitted from person-to-person mainly through the faecal-oral route or less frequently by a common vehicle, for example, contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine. It is however preventable with oral polio vaccine.

Also Mr Michael Banda, Officer-in-Charge, UNICEF Field Office in Kano said the media dialogue was organised to share key information and messages with the media on polio vaccination and to solicit media support in mobilising caregivers to bring out their children for vaccination.

“Not just during current vaccination campaign, but to embrace routine immunisation and increase its uptake, especially for children under five years of age.

“In 2023, there was an increase in the number of cVPD2 cases across the country with five states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kano contributing to about 88% (211 of 238) of the total cases in 2023.  

“As the data shows, in three states of Kano, Jigawa and Katsina, supported by the UNICEF Kano Field Office, we have over 556,750 children who have not received one single dose of vaccination they should have received,” Banda added. 

On his part, Dr Shehu Abdullahi Muhammad, a Kano state mobilisation officer said a caregiver, in the context of polio eradication, refers to individuals who are responsible for the well-being of children, including their health and immunisation.

He also explained why the caregivers resist polio vaccination in the rural areas, most especially in Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states is because people always believe in the superstition that polio vaccine was planned to reduce the rate of child bearing with a view to reducing the population of their people.

He therefore urged the media to always use effective communication languages to convince parents of the affected children of under five years old to embrace routine and oral Polio vaccination (OPV) campaign.

“Misinformation or fear of adverse effects can lead to vaccine hesitancy. It is crucial to provide accurate information about the safety profile of the vaccine, emphasizing its long history of successful use and minimal risk belief that the OPV is effective.

“Trust plays a vital role in vaccination acceptance. If caregivers mistrust the vaccinators or the campaign organisers, they may resist participation,” he warned.

He advised that the media should always de-emphasise the risk associated with the polio vaccine and emphasize more on the importance and benefits of the vaccines to the caregivers and parents of the children.”

However on the part of Jigawa state, the director Jigawa State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (PHCDA), Dr Shehu Sambo said that the target for this campaign exercise is 1.5 million children under five years old across the state.

Addressing reporters recently shortly after flagging off the campaign at the Emir of Dutse’s Palace, Dr Sambo said already close to 15,000 ad-hoc staff were recruited to carry out the exercise across the nooks and crannies of the state.

Also, during the flagging off ceremony, the Emir of Dutse, Alhaji Hameem Nuhu Mohammadu Sanusi said on his part, he has directed all his district heads across the Emirate to take part in the exercise to make sure that every child in the rural areas is vaccinated accordingly.

The Emir therefore called on all parents in his Emirate to make sure their children are fully covered and vaccinated to avoid anything that can turn the hand of the clock otherwise.