As part of the World Polio Day celebration, a Nigerian virologist and chairman of the board of Biovaccines Nigeria Limited (BVNL), Prof. Oyewale Tomori has emphasised the need for Nigerians to unite in the mission to eradicate polio.
In an interview with journalists in Abuja, to celebrate the day, set apart every October 24, on Tuesday, Tomori shared his thoughts on the 2023 World Polio Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness and resources in the fight against poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, a disease that can cause paralysis and disability.
Polio is caused by polioviruses, and while there is no known cure for the disease, effective vaccines are available to prevent it. Thanks to vaccination campaigns, polio has been eliminated in various parts of the world. However, Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to grapple with the transmission of wild polioviruses, and sub-Saharan Africa faces challenges due to the circulation of vaccine-derived polioviruses, primarily stemming from inadequate immunisation coverage.
Tomori stressed that ensuring every child receives the necessary polio vaccine drops is crucial to making a significant impact in eradicating this debilitating disease. He underlined the importance of unity and collaboration among all Nigerians, whether they are parents, community leaders, healthcare workers, or ordinary citizens, in this mission.
He emphasised that eradicating polio transcends health; it’s also an economic and social imperative. Polio’s long-lasting effects can hinder both individual and community development, limiting the potential of those affected for life. By eradicating polio, Nigeria can pave the way for a healthier and more prosperous future for its citizens.
Addressing concerns and misconceptions surrounding the polio vaccine, Tomori assured Nigerians that the vaccine is safe and effective, having undergone rigorous testing and approval processes. He urged people to trust scientific evidence and not be swayed by misinformation.
While Nigeria was declared to have interrupted the transmission of wild poliovirus in 2020, the circulation of the Variant Polio Virus2 (cVPV2) strain continues. In 2020, Nigeria reported eight cases of cVPV2 from children diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP), and in 2021, the number rose to 480. However, improved immunisation campaigns led to a significant drop, with 46 cases in 2022 and only 26 reported cases so far this year.
Experts stress the importance of maintaining momentum to completely end the threat of polio to children. To strengthen the fight against cVPV2, the coordinator for the Polio Eradication Programme from the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Jamal Ahmed noted that there is still work to be done, particularly in Nigeria’s northwest zone, which has persistently experienced breakthrough transmission of cVPV2 cases despite multiple rounds of novel Oral Polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2).