Nigeria’s health minister, Isaac Adewole, said on Friday that his government is determined to rid the country of polio again. New cases recently landed Nigeria back on the list of countries where the disease is endemic.

Adewole met with Rotary leaders at Rotary International World Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, to discuss Nigeria’s recent efforts to stem the outbreak.

All three of the country’s cases were detected in the northern state of Borno, which was under the control of Boko Haram militants until recently. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the virus has been circulating in the region for five years.

“The new cases devastated us. Even one case is unacceptable. It’s very unfortunate we are in this position, but we are recalibrating our efforts to end this disease,” Adewole said. “We consider this situation a national emergency.”

Shortly after the outbreak, the minister sent an emergency response team to Borno for an immediate and robust vaccination campaign targeting about 1 million children. More than 850,000 were immunized in the first five days of the campaign, according to Adewole. To reinforce the effort, the country is using both oral and inactivated polio vaccines.

Moreover, Nigeria established a task force to tackle other issues in Borno, including lack of clean water, sanitation, health, nutrition, and psychosocial disorder stemming from Boko Haram’s occupation. “Rebuilding Borno is a national priority,” he added.

Nigeria, with the help of Rotary and its polio partners, has already begun additional large-scale immunizations aimed at reaching 60 million children by December. Rotary released $8.5 million to support the response in high-risk areas and parts of the Lake Chad Basin.

Nearby countries including Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, and Niger are also coordinating vaccinations to protect their polio-free status.

Together, the five countries are conducting what Adewole called a “ringed fence” immunization. Inoculations take place along the countries’ borders.

“We can’t do this alone. Working with the other countries is crucial to the overall polio eradication in Africa,” he added.

In 2015, after Nigeria passed more than a year without any cases detected, WHO announced that it was polio-free and removed it from the list of countries where polio is endemic. Adewole admitted that the country stopped focusing on polio after the achievement. “We started the celebration too early. But these cases have awakened us, and we are now redoubling our efforts so this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Adewole added that it will take sustained effort to be removed from the list again, including domestic and international financing, the commitment of thousands of health workers, and strategies that reach missed children. The government has allocated $300 million for the emergency response.

“Polio eradication is about national pride and honor,” he says. “We will not let our citizens or the world down.”

By Ryan Hyland

Rotary News