Expert Review Committee charged to sustain polio elimination in Nigeria

Gloria Essien, Abuja

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The Expert Review Committee of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) has been charged to sustain Nigeria’s polio-free status.

READ ALSO: No case of Wild Polio Virus in Nigeria – NPHCDA

The Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency. Dr. Faisal Shuaib, gave the charge at the 38th Meeting of the Expert Review Committee of Polio and Routine Immunization holding in Abuja.

He said that following the recommendations from the 37th ERC meeting in 2019, appreciable progress were made in both Routine Immunization and the control of circulating Variant Polio Virus type 2 (cVPV2).

For Routine Immunization, the country is steadily improving from the 33 percent coverage in 2016 to 56 percent in 2022 according to the latest MICS/NICS report. We recognize that before the pandemic we had reached 71 percent within two years. The cVDPV2, has been a major concern during the last ERC meeting, and today the outbreak has snow-balled to even greater proportions to become one of the greatest challenges the country has faced in the polio programme, apart from the recent detection of Wild Polio Virus type 1 (WPV1) in Malawi in February, and WPV 3 report in Israel this March. This brings it very close to home that it is not over until it is over. The report from Malawi indicates that we must strengthen our system in order to avoid an outbreak of WPV in Nigeria”. Dr. Shuaib said.

He said that the 37th ERC had offered Nigeria guidance on how to contain cVPV2 spread, which has unfortunately now spread more to affect 29 States of the federation and FCT, including states in the Southern zones of the country as at the time.

One of this guidelines was the use of novel Oral Polio vaccine (nOPV2) which has been shown to be effective in halting the spread of cVPV2. So far all 36 States and FCT have completed at least two rounds of nOPV2, 18 states have completed at least four rounds of nOPV2 Outbreak Response, 3 states have completed three rounds, while an additional 16 states have completed at least two rounds of nOPV2 Outbreak response. Our surveillance system has remained robust despite the global COVID-19 pandemic that had a negative impact on the health system. In 2020, our surveillance had picked and detected 22 cases of CDVPV2, in 2021, 1027 cases and in 2022, 11 cases have already been detected. Although the figures may look scary, it is a demonstration that our surveillance system is effective, reliable and also means that if there is a Wild Polio Virus in circulation, it would have been detected”. Dr. Shuaib said.

He noted that the COVID-19 has impacted negatively not only on the economy, social lives, but also the immunization programme, where planned campaigns were suspended to address the pandemic.

However, it is heart-warming to announce that about 19,316, 980 Nigerians have been vaccinated with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine; 8,799,052 have taken the second dose; while 725,459 have taken the booster dose. This is actually a far cry from the government’s plan to vaccinate 50 percent of the total population of the country by the end of March 2022. However, with the currently rolled out optimised SCALES Strategy and the Mass Vaccination Campaign (MVC) presently ongoing across the country, we are expecting a massive jump in the COVID-19 uptake throughout the country. We now have vaccines, so we have now drilled down to microplanning starting from the ward level, to Local Government to State and then to National, having a bottom up approach”. He noted.

The ED added that he hopes that the 38th meeting of the ERC will produce recommendations that will guide Nigeria in halting the rampaging outbreak of cVPV2 in the country and scale up both our Routine Immunisation and COVID-19 vaccination coverages.

The Chairman of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) Review Committee On Polio And Routine Immunization, Prof. Akin Osibogun, who expressed happiness on being chosen to serve, said that given the ease of human travel, it has become imperative for the committee to uphold the Nigerian Polio Eradication programme.

Nigeria has fought a long and hard battle with the wild polio virus before its certification as a wild polio virus free country. With the recent wild Polio virus type 1 in Malawi it has become imperative for us to urgently put in place strategies to prevent importation of the virus. The reconstitution of this Expert review committee is one of such strategies and the leadership of the NPHCDA must be commended for being proactive“. Prof. Osibogun said.

He said that the objectives of the committee is essentially to advise on strategies to prevent re-introduction of wild polio virus in Nigeria and end the circulating vaccine derived polio virus in Nigeria through strengthening of the immunization programme, AFP surveillance, community mobilization and advocacy, environmental monitoring and other appropriate strategies.

“I am confident that with this assembly of experts on the ERC, we will be able to achieve our goal which is to ensure all eligible children are reached irrespective of their location in the country. The current meeting will afford us the opportunity to review the progress and implementation status of the recommendations made from the 37th ERC. We have the opportunity to look at those challenges that have lingered in the program and proffer lasting solutions in order for us to retain our certification status”. The chairman said.

He reiterated that was important to sustain the commitments to earlier gains are not lost and promised that they will do their utmost in ensuring that Nigeria is rid of all forms of the polio virus.

Members of the previous committee led by Prof. Oyewole Tomori were appreciated and given awards of recognition for deligently serving in the 37th Expert Review Committee.

The meeting continues in Abuja.

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