It has taken Nigeria a long, long time, but finally, we are Polio free. It has taken 30 years of continuous global intervention, and billions of Naira to tackle the infectious disease that primarily infects children causing significant nerve damage and in extreme cases, paralysis.
As a childhood disease, Polio ravaged the world, causing millions of cases of partial paralysis and limb deformity. Campaigns in the US would provide the blueprint for eradicating the virus and these plans would inspire a worldwide drive to drive the virus into extinction. Nigeria has remained one of the harder spots to eradicate the virus with poor healthcare hindering progress. August 21 2019, marked 60 days the country has gone without any cases of the wild polio virus and 3 years since a polio victim was presented to health officials.
To get to this place, it has taken the intervention of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) partnering with the Nigerian government to reach the most disadvantaged communities, including riverine communities in South-South Nigeria cut off from the rest of the country by unfavourable topography and much of Northern Nigeria, (with an epicentre in Kano state) that has been largely distrustful of vaccines thanks to the propaganda of religious and cultural leaders who believe vaccinations lead to infertility and is used as a tool to cull populations.
One of the major innovations that has helped to change the fate of polio eradication in Nigeria is the decision to abandon the more common intravenous method of administering the Polio vaccine for an oral methods that uses droppers and allows the process of vaccination be monitored. Listening to the concerns of communities involved and evolving to acknowledge those problems in solution finding was integral to this success.
This breakthrough provides hope, not just for Polio sufferers but for all the other endemic diseases in the continent. There is hope still that we will find ways to eradicate them.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.