The Federal Government has asked striking resident doctors to resume work as most of the issues they have raised are state affairs.
Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire told journalists in Abuja on Thursday that seven of 12 matters that were raised by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), were the responsibility of state governments.
Consequently, he expects the resident doctors to resume work on Friday and take up these issues with the state governments rather than embark on the nationwide strike as they had done.
This is more so, according to him, because the Federal Government has started addressing the five issues it is responsible for.
Resident doctors in Nigerian public hospitals started a nationwide strike on Monday, for several reasons including delays in the payment of their salaries and allowances.
The strike coincided with a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country, leaving many worried that it could have serious consequences for the battle against the third wave of the pandemic.
Dr Ehanire shared the concerns in his briefing on Thursday, telling journalists that the industrial action was crippling the government’s efforts in tackling the resurgence of the pandemic.
Defending his position on the strike and the call on the doctors to resume, the minister said the Nigerian Constitution clearly spelt out the responsibilities of all the tiers of government.
Resident doctors cannot hold the Federal Government to ransom on issues related to states governments, he said.
As far as the minister is concerned, resident doctors employed by the Federal Government had no basis for joining the strike in the first case. This, he explained, is because they are not being owed.
The doctors had insisted that they had no choice but to opt for the strike at the start of the action.
They argued that the government never hold talks with them until they take drastic action.
“Usually there is no negotiation done until we go on a strike,” said the President of the Association of Resident Doctors at the National Hospital in Abuja, Dr Akanimo Ebong told Channels Television on Monday.
The resident doctors had gone on strike earlier this year, suspending the action after 10 days on April 10.
They are unhappy with what happened after that.
“We never called it (the strike) off, we only suspended it to give time for negotiations. But since we called off the strike on April 10, barely anything has been done,” Dr Ebong said.
The latest strike followed a meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of NARD in Umuahia, the Abia State capital.
Issues raised by the medical practitioners include the immediate payment of all salaries owed to all house officers, including March salaries (regardless of quota system) before the end of business on March 31.
They are also asking for an upward review of the hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance, especially in state-owned-tertiary institutions.
The Federal Government has vowed to sanction returning passengers who abscond from quarantine facilities, including possible prosecution of such individuals.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, believed such persons constitute a major risk to the country’s health system.
He raised concerns over reports from port health officials that some passengers from high risks countries have continued to abscond from facilities where they were quarantined.
“The Federal Ministry of Health Point of Entry (PoE) pillar of the COVID-19 response has been continuously monitoring passenger arrivals especially from high-risk countries like India, Turkey, and Brazil.
“This process has been an arduous one given that port health staff have continued to report a trend of abscondment by quarantined passengers, an act detrimental to our pandemic response and public health safety,” the minister said on Monday.
He added, “I entreat all persons to comply with our port health staff or risk facing sanctions, including prosecution. Non-compliance with their directives constitutes a risk to national health security and will be handled with commensurate severity.”
Osagie noted that the world has witnessed an increase in reported cases of COVID-19 across a significant number of countries, due to the high transmissibility of the Delta Variant.
He explained that the threat included importation from countries that were popular travel destinations for Nigerians, including the United Kingdom, United States, UAE, France, and Turkey, which have a high incidence of the virulent strain.
Push For Vaccine Sufficiency
The minister decried that COVID-19 treatment bed occupancy was also recording an increase given the established emergence of a third wave.
In preparation, he hinted that the government has taken steps to urgently scale up and enhance local oxygen capacity even before oxygen consumption increases.
According to Osagie, Nigeria is a well-traversed country and is susceptible to further importation of the virus, especially when there is clear evidence that the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has begun across the African continent.
“Nigeria is at increased risk if we continue to neglect public health protocols placed at points of entry, which are our first line of defence and a critical point of concern,” he warned.
The minister stated that Nigeria has invested directly and strategically in ensuring oxygen availability to avert unforeseen incidence of oxygen insufficiency for COVID-19 patients in the country.
On the push for COVID-19 vaccine sufficiency, he said the country was expecting over 29 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines purchased by the government through the African Union AVATT facility; as well as over four million Moderna and almost 700,000 AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX facility from bilateral donations from the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, with Pfizer and Sinopharm from both bilateral agreements and through the COVAX facility.
“Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a one-dose vaccine, will be advantageous for our context with weak Civil Registration Vital Statistics (CRVS) and a nomadic population.
“We expect to take delivery of these vaccines within this third quarter with the Johnson & Johnson expected this August,” Osagie hinted.
Nigeria needs over a trillion naira to effectively combat malaria in the country, Dr Osagie Ehanire has said.
He explained that of the total sum, the country required more than N350 billion naira to fight the disease in 2021 alone.
Ehanire, the Minister of Health, disclosed this on Friday a news conference in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“The implementation of the new strategic plan will cost N1.89 trillion; about N352 billion is required for the year 2021 programme implementation,” he told reporters ahead of the World Malaria Day scheduled to hold on Sunday.
The minister added, “The theme of this year’s commemoration is Zero Malaria – Draw the Line Against Malaria, and the slogan ‘Stand Up, Take Action’ which is to empower communities in various countries to take ownership of preventing malaria and providing proper care and treatment to those in need, are germane.”
He acknowledged that the Federal Government does not have the adequate amount required to fight the disease this year.
Ehanire attributed this to the prevailing economic circumstances occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, just as in other countries.
He, therefore, called on the private sector, various corporate organisations, and patriotic individuals to support the government to tackle malaria.
Hope For Vaccine
The minister disclosed that the government was working to establish a Malaria Council that would help to drive domestic funding for the elimination of the disease.
According to him, the commemoration of World Malaria Day provides the government with the opportunity to share the progress made, best practices, and create awareness on the scourge of malaria.
Malaria, a disease caused by a parasite spread to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes, kills more than 400,000 people a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa.
As experts across the world step up efforts to combat the disease, a recent study shows that a malaria vaccine from the Oxford Institute is 77 per cent effective for the treatment of COVID-19.
The study conducted by Oxford University and released on Friday indicated that clinical trials had been carried out on 450 children between the ages of five to 17 months.
If safety is assured, health authorities say that it will become the key weapon in eliminating the disease, which is responsible for half a million deaths a year, mostly in children.
The Federal Government plans to provide 10-bed Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in every state of the Federation, as part of strategies to provide critical response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
This was disclosed by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who gave an assurance that the focus on COVID-19 prevention and treatment would not wipe out the maintenance of normal routine vaccination.
He made the disclosure on Thursday in continuation of the series of presidential briefings coordinated by the Communications Team at the State House in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
This edition of the meeting focused on the health sector and plans for the smooth roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines received recently by the government.
‘Track And Trace’
According to Ehanire, the Federal Ministry of Health intends to develop as a matter of urgency the nation’s emergency medical service to respond to persons with medical distress.
He stressed the need to continue with the public health measures, insisting that there was no specific treatment for COVID-19 but trials to improve therapeutics.
On her part, the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Mojisola Adeyeye, announced that the agency would soon commence a ‘track and trace’ exercise.
She explained that this was to mitigate and potentially halt the infiltration of falsified and sub-standard COVID-19 vaccines already detected in the global supply chain.
Adeyeye noted that an indigenous software was also being employed to check the authenticity of received products.
She revealed that NAFDAC was collaborating with the Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to ensure safe monitoring of medicines in the market.
Buhari, Osinbajo, Others To Take Vaccine
The Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who was also present at the briefing, noted that Thursday made it exactly a year and five days since COVID-19 was identified in the country.
He stated that Nigeria has since maintained a robust response to the pandemic and called for the sustenance of critical investment to the health sector to consolidate on the gains achieved in the last one year.
For the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, an improved percentage of 50 per cent of Nigerians have indicated willingness to be vaccinated while 25 per cent remained hesitant.
He reiterated that vaccines would not be deployed to any state that has not fulfilled its preparedness criteria.
The NPHCDA boss hinted that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, would get their vaccine shots on Saturday.
While he said the actual time for the inoculation of the two leaders would be communicated soon, he hinted that members of the Federal Executive Council would be vaccinated on Monday.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has hinted that Nigeria might soon exit the second wave of the coronavirus disease.
Speaking during a briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Monday, the Minister said the country has been recording a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases.
He also observed decreased positivity rate from sustained testing in states, which according to him is synonymous with global trends.
“This trend in reduction compares with global observations of seeming decline in COVID-19 cases, signifying that the second wave may be receding,” he said.
“On 21st of February 2021, 521 new infections and 8 deaths occurred in 20 states. The sustained testing in states has decreased positively rate.
“We are, however, not drawing conclusions yet and certainly not declaring victory, but rather watching developments as they unfold nationally and internationally, ready to make use of comparative advantages that may emerge.”
The Minister also spoke of an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in Guinea, noting that the Federal Government is closely monitoring the situation.
He also stated that the Nigerian government is collaborating with the West African Health Organization (WAHO).
“Nigeria is closely observing developments on the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea and working with West African Health Organization (WAHO) to contain it in the outbreak country of Guinea and prevent the spread to other countries in the region.
“We are pleased to note that the ECOWAS countries adjacent to the epicenter are taking strict measures with regard checking movement of persons,” the Minister added.
Ehanire explained that Port Health Service officers have been on high alert to step up border surveillance of travellers arriving by air or overland from destinations around the outbreak country to avert disease importation.
He explained that although Nigeria has been classified as a moderate Ebola risk country because of its distance from Guinea, health workers have been directed to report suspicious symptoms, including fever and bleeding in the community, among recent arrivals from the West African subregion.
The Minister also advised Nigerians intending to visit countries in the general area, to delay the visit.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has received dossiers for Chinese vaccine and three others for evaluation amid the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
This is according to the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, who addressed reporters in Abuja on Monday during a briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
He identified the COVID-19 vaccines as Sinopharm Vaccine of China, Sputnik V vaccine of Russia, Covishield or Astra Zeneca manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin by Bharat vaccines of India.
“The National Agency For Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has received dossiers for Sputnik V vaccine of Russia, Covishield or Astra Zeneca manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, Covaxin by Bharat vaccines of India and the Sinopharm Vaccine of China, for evaluation and validation for use in Nigeria. Some of them are nearly ready for results,” he said.
“It is important to stress that all covid19 vaccines carry a certain amount of risk and any vaccines not approved by the Federal Ministry of Health through its Agencies cannot be used in Nigeria.
“The government will not be responsible for the safety or efficacy of vaccines given outside the framework of the Government. All the needs of Nigeria have been carefully calculated by NPHCDA and it is possible to accommodate all interests in the framework.”
The Minister also announced the donation of 100,000 AstraZeneca or covishield vaccine doses by the Indian government.
Speaking on the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Ehanire said the Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the situation and other disease of public health concern.
He explained that “Nigeria’s Port Health Services have been put on alert on land, sea and Air borders and all major hospitals have also been put on notice to alert health workers to have a keen index of suspicion and to check patient travel history, especially at Outpatient departments, and report concerns to infectious disease focal persons and the State epidemiologists without hesitation.”
According to him, stricter infection prevention and control measures, including Personal Protective measures, must be taken immediately there is reason to suspect.
“Nigeria is willing to send experienced volunteers from our Centres of Excellence on Viral haemmorrhagic fever, to support WHO measures to contain Ebola resurgence in our West African subregion.
“It is important to protect the subregion from the catastrophic burden of dealing with two severe diseases of public health concern,” he added.
Nigeria has secured an additional 41 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said on Thursday.
However, the date of the vaccine’s delivery into the country remains unknown as vaccine manufacturers struggle to meet global demand in time.
“We do not have an exact date,” Dr Ehanire said during an appearance on Channels Television’s Politics Today. “The date it comes out depends on when the manufacturers are able to deliver, and that is not something that any country can enforce at this time.”
The 41 million doses were secured as part of efforts by an African Union task team to help countries on the continent gain equitable access to vaccines.
The AU earlier on Thursday had announced that it had secured an additional 400 million doses of the vaccines for the continent.
This comes on top of an earlier announcement by the AU that it had secured 270 million vaccine doses.
Many African countries, including Nigeria, are yet to start vaccination programs even as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the continent.
Nigeria was expected to take delivery of 100,000 vaccine doses via the WHO-backed Covax sharing facility by the end of January, but the timeline has now been shifted to February, Minister Ehanire confirmed on Thursday.
“The timelines are not in the hands of the recipient,” he stressed, noting that blocs like the European Union who had preordered vaccines since last year were yet to get enough supply.
The 41 million vaccine doses are expected to come from three major sources: Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through the Serum Institute of India), and Johnson & Johnson.
Because most African countries fall under the class of middle and low-income countries, the purchase of the vaccines will be financed by the African Export–Import Bank, also known as Afreximbank.
However, countries are expected to make a down-payment of about 15 per cent and repay the cost over a five to seven-year period.
“Nigeria is mobilising resources,” Minister Ehanire said. “We have some funds ready. We will make a substantial deposit when it is time.”
Meanwhile, the Covax vaccines expected in February are expected to be free, for the first 20 percent of the population. But the country will pay for the “logistics of delivery and administration.”
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, has said that Nigerians should expect to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January 2021.
He stated this on Wednesday during the 28th Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Council Chamber of the State House, Abuja presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
According to the Minister, a technical working group in the Ministry of Health is working on which vaccine will best suit Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is currently in his hometown, Daura in Katsina State, joined the meeting virtually.
To commence the meeting, the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Munguno (retd), said the Muslim opening prayer while the minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, said the Christian prayer.
In attendance are the Permanent Secretary, Ecological Funds Office, Mrs. Habiba Lawal, standing in for the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, who is self-isolating with his wife after some members of his family tested positive for COVID-19 and Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari.
Fifteen ministers are physically attending the meeting, some of whom are the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello, Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami and the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika.
Others are the Minister of Defence, Maj.-Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd), Minister of Environment, Mohammed Abubakar; Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi; Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva and Minister of State for the Environment, Sharon Ikpeazu.
The Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan and other ministers are participating in the weekly council meeting from their various offices in Abuja.
The Federal Government has raised concern over the possible surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Speaking during a briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Tuesday in Abuja, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, warned that Nigeria might have increased infections if surveillance is not followed.
“As business and schools begin to open and as travels begin to pick up, we fear that we may have a surge in the number of cases unless we scale up surveillance and review our response plan to integrate new ways to deal with the disease,” he said.
“In line with this, the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research has developed a molecular test for COVID-19 that can give results in less than 40 minutes. It is the SARS-COV-2 Isothermal Molecular Assay (SIMA) which can be performed by low skilled personnel with minimum training.
“This test which is ten times cheaper than the PCR, can be deployed for point of care detection and surveillance.
“The technique which was developed by Dr. Chika Onwuamah will be deployed for use as soon as it is validated by the relevant agencies of the Ministry for specificity and Sensitivity.”
SEE FULL STATEMENT HERE:
PRESS BRIEFING BY HONOURABLE MINISTER OF HEALTH, DR. OSAGIE EHANIRE AT THE PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESIDENTIAL TASK FORCE ON COVID-19 ON THURSDAY 29THSEPTEMBER, 2020
A total of 58,460 confirmed cases have been recorded as at today, 29th September, 2020 with 49,895 cases treated and discharged.This result is from a total of 509,555 persons tested for COVID-19. Sadly, the number of deaths as a result of the disease has since crossed the 1100 mark with 1111 deaths recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. We currently have 7,454 active cases which are being managed at home or are in treatment centres with about half of them in Lagos State.
2.The number of active cases has continued to drop as we revise our discharge criteria in line with new knowledge of the disease even as we continue to strengthen our case management pillar to provide effective and efficient quality care to all those who test positive whether they are in our facilities or home care.
3.As business and schools begin to open and as travels begin to pick up, we fear that we may have a surge in the number of cases unless we scale up surveillance and review our response plan to integrate new ways to deal with the disease.
4.In line with this, the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research has developed a molecular test for COVID-19 that can give results in less than 40 minutes. It is the SARS-COV-2 Isothermal Molecular Assay (SIMA) which can be performed by low skilled personnel with minimum training. This test which is ten times cheaper than the PCR can be deployed for point of care detection and surveillance. The technique which was developed by Dr. Chika Onwuamah will be deployed for use as soon as it is validated by the relevant agencies of the Ministry for specificity and Sensitivity.
5.I commend the Management of NIMR led by prof. Salako and particularly Dr. Onwuamah for this laudable breakthrough. I also extend the appreciation of Government to the FATE Philanthropy Coalition for COVID-19 (FPCC) Support Fund for funding the project. Government will continue to support every genuine initiative that contribute to our response plan.
6.On Friday, 25 September, 2020, I had the privilege of performing thecommissioning and hand over of the Infectious Disease Centre at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital which is a purpose-built infectious disease treatment centre as part of the commitment of the Federal Government to providing the necessary infrastructure and resources for infectious disease management. It will go a long way towards improving our capacity to respond to all infectious diseases.
7.It is a fall back facility which we do not have to put to use if we observe all necessary preventive measures such as wearing of face masks, observing respiratory hygiene, and physical distancing. In addition, we also need to ensure that we test and isolate all those with symptoms which suggest COVID-19.
8.This morning, the top management Committee of the Federal Ministry of Health played host to the Victims Support funds (VSF) who were in the Ministry to officially present some IT equipment to the federal Ministry of Health to boost the technical capacity of personnel support our response to the pandemic. The VSF has been supporting the Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee on COVID-19. I wish to use this opportunity to General T.Y Danjuma and the management of the VSF for the initiative. I recall that the fund has also supported the NCDC as well.
9.I shall again renew my appeal to state government to continue to ensure that we step up case findings, sample collection and testing. It is only by testing that we can identify those with the infection for isolation and treatment. This is the only way we can truly halt the spread of the disease and confirm that we have actually contained the pandemic.
10.Our goal is to have at least one standard Infectious Disease centre in every state. We shall therefore work with states establish purpose-built treatment centres that will ensure we are better prepared for infectious disease outbreaks in the country.
The Federal Government has cautioned Nigerians to be careful during this COVID-19 pandemic era, adding that vaccines will not be available until 2021.
Speaking during a briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Thursday in Abuja, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, asked the citizens to adhere to the non-pharmaceutical interventions.
“Vaccines will not be available until next year at best. No reliable therapeutics has been confirmed but our country must restart businesses, including travel to allow citizens to earn their livelihood,” he said.
He also appealed to Nigerians to adhere to the protocols aimed at reducing the spread of the virus in the country.
“Compliance with all the recommended measures like wearing your masks, social distancing, avoiding gatherings etc will go a long way to help.”
Speaking further, the Minister again appealed to the striking health workers to call off their industrial actions.
According to him, the best way to settle industrial disputes is to come to the negotiation table with the Federal Government.
“I also use this opportunity to renew my calls to members of the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) to put the plight, safety and well-being of their patients into consideration and to call off the ongoing strike while the differences are being addressed by negotiations.
“It is important to remind ourselves that COVID-19 is real and spreading gradually in some parts of the world as we speak.
“It is risky to believe that it is going away even though it looks as if the figures are reducing here. Some countries are experiencing the so-called second waves with all the complications that go along with this easily spreading disease,” he said.
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, on Wednesday, said striking resident doctors must be patient with the government as their demands are being met.
The Minister made the plea in an appearance on Channels Television’s special COVID-19 program.
The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) commenced an industrial strike on Monday amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing unmet demands such as the non-payment of COVID-19 hazard allowance.
The doctors, in June, had also downed tools for one week.
Mr Ehanire, on Wednesday, said it was “not a good time to go on strike”.
“Salaries are not outstanding, salaries are paid up-to-date; hazard allowance was outstanding up till a few days ago, as agreed,” Ehanire said. “But there is another tranche that is coming up on stream, which we are talking about with the Ministry of Finance.
“What they must understand is that there are several ministries dealing with these issues. these ministries have a lot on their plate. We are urging and advocating for attention for the doctors. We are asking the doctors for patience. We want to assure them they will not be shortchanged.”
The provision of life insurance is one of the key demands of the doctors.
“The insurance subject is under the office of the Head of Service; it’s a civil servant activity,” the Minister said. “And we are urging the office in charge to expedite settlement for those who lost their lives, to ensure that the insurance is well kept.
“These are not things that will happen overnight. If you don’t get it today, you will get it tomorrow. We are going to ensure that all those promises are kept.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the Minister directed youth service doctors to operate instead of the striking doctors, as government representatives continued to negotiate with NARD officials.
“The NYSC members “are not to take over, but to support the consultants,” Ehanire said. “The consultants are a category of senior doctors who run the programs and are supported by young doctors. Consultants oversee the work of resident doctors and resident doctors oversee the work of youth service doctors.
“Consultants will oversee the work of youth service doctors to make sure that the COVID centres are attended to, emergency centres and essential services are attended to, and then routine services, as much as possible, are also attended to.
“The Ministry has a responsibility to ensure Nigerians continue to receive health services.”
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, on Tuesday, said strategies are already in place to ensure the country stays polio-free.
Nigeria, along with the rest of Africa, was declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation on Tuesday, marking the eradication of a second virus from the continent, since smallpox 40 years ago.
“The chances of a resurgence are chances that we can control if we build up our routine immunisation, which we intend to do,” Ehanire said.
“We are now at about 70 per cent. We know that the remaining 30 per cent is more difficult. So we are developing strategies to expand the coverage up to 90 per cent.
“The difficult areas will be hard-to-reach areas and areas that you will likely not find transport. So we have acquired motorcycles that will be able to carry vaccinators all the way to what we call the ‘last mile’.”
The health minister added that the primary healthcare structure is being expanded to provide services such as routine immunisation.
“And if we have a platform of functional primary healthcare centres, routine immunisation, well established and the surveillance principle is set up – we are carrying out very strict acute flaccid paralysis surveillance – then we should have control of the polio eradication and be able to maintain it.”
“Today is a historic day for Africa,” said Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke, whose commission certified that no polio cases had occurred on the continent for the past four years, the threshold for eradication.
Since 1996, eradication efforts “have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180,000 lives,” the UN agency said.
Poliomyelitis — the medical term for polio — is an acutely infectious and contagious virus which attacks the spinal cord and causes irreversible paralysis in children.
It was endemic around the world until a vaccine was found in the 1950s, though this remained out of reach for many poorer countries in Asia and Africa.
In 1988, when the WHO, UNICEF and Rotary launched the worldwide campaign to eradicate the disease, there were 350,000 cases globally. In 1996, there were more than 70,000 cases in Africa alone.
Thanks to a global effort and financial backing — some $19 billion over 30 years — only Afghanistan and Pakistan have recorded cases this year: 87 in total.
Poliovirus is typically spread in the faeces of an infected person and is picked up through contaminated water or food.
Vaccinating people to prevent them from becoming infected thus breaks the cycle of transmission and eventually eradicates the virus in the wild.
The last case of polio in Africa was detected in 2016 in Nigeria, where vaccination had been violently opposed by jihadists who claimed it was a plot to sterilise Muslims.
More than 20 workers involved in the campaign lost their lives.
“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists,” Moeti said.
“I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause.”
The declaration, made at a ministerial-level virtual conference on health issues in Africa, coincided with an announcement in Democratic Republic of Congo that a 25-month epidemic of measles that killed more than 7,000 children was now over, thanks to a massive immunisation effort.
Togo, meanwhile, said it had become the first African country to stop transmission of human African trypanosomiasis — the insect-borne disease known as sleeping sickness.
Joy in Nigeria
Health workers in Nigeria were jubilant at the polio announcement.
“Happiness is an understatement. We’ve been on this marathon for over 30 years,” said Tunji Funsho, a Nigerian doctor and local anti-polio coordinator for Rotary International.
“It’s a real achievement, I feel joy and relief at the same time.”
Nigeria, a country with 200 million inhabitants, was still among the polio trouble-spots in the early 2000s.
In its northern Muslim-majority areas, authorities were forced to stop vaccination campaigns in 2003 and 2004 by Islamic extremists.
It took a huge effort in tandem with traditional chiefs and religious leaders to convince populations that the vaccine was safe.
“People trust their local traditional leaders who live with them more than the political leaders,” said Grema Mundube, a community leader in the town of Monguno, in the far north of Nigeria.
“Once we spoke to them and they saw us immunising our children they gradually accepted the vaccine,” he told AFP.
However, the emergence of violent Islamist group Boko Haram in 2009 caused another rupture in the programme. In 2016, four new cases were discovered in Borno state in the northeast in the heart of the conflict.
“At the time, we couldn’t reach two-thirds of the children of Borno state — 400,000 children couldn’t access the vaccine,” said Dr Funsho.
In “partially accessible” areas, vaccination teams worked under the protection of the Nigerian army and local self-defence militias.
For areas fully controlled by the jihadists, the WHO and its partners sought to intercept people coming in and out along market and transport routes in a bid to spread medical information and recruit “health informants” who could tell them about any polio cases.
Today, it is estimated that only 30,000 children are still “inaccessible”, but this number is considered too low by scientists to allow for an epidemic to break out.
The next step is to ensure that Africa is shielded from any polio cases from Pakistan or Afghanistan and continue vaccinations of children to ensure that communities are safe.