Perhaps moved by the $500,000 grant to be awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to states that meet all the criteria for polio eradication by end of 2012, Nigeria's 36 governors and minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja have signed up to the Nigeria Immunization Challenge initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year.
The grant was designed to support their top health priorities which included initiatives in public health, such as malaria and tuberculosis, improving immunization, HIV prevention and treatment, or safe drinking water and hygiene promotion.
Announced in October 2011, the challenge was initiated together with the Nigeria Governors' Forum in which any interested governor was required to officially enter his state in the award program through the forum by October 31, 2011.
However, to receive the grant, the state will need to pass through a rigorous set of criteria based on outcomes in their polio program and routine immunization services and is also expected to achieve more than 90 percent coverage which will be verified through an independent monitoring system managed by the World Health Organization.
The announcement followed a visit by Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation and its Chief Executive Officer Jeff Raikes, during which President Goodluck Jonathan expressed his hope that Nigeria would have close to zero cases at the same time in 2012 and be finished with polio soon after.
For Raikes, "Renewed political resolve and accountability are critical to stopping polio in Nigeria and we find it encouraging to witness both through the support expressed by every Executive Governor across the country for this initiative.
By collectively signing up to this challenge, they are sending a very clear message about their commitment to lead the fight to eliminate polio in Nigeria".
In his remarks, Director General of the Nigeria Governors' Forum Mr. A.B. Okauru, explained that Nigeria made great progress in 2010 by reducing polio by 95 percent, but however regretted that the pressure was not sustained in 2011and as a result the polio virus was able to make a comeback.
He said: "In 2012, Nigeria will need to redouble its efforts to finally get rid of this devastating disease".
The Nigeria Immunization Challenge sets specific objectives that need to be met during each quarter of 2012. If met, Nigeria will significantly improve its chances of stopping polio and protecting more children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough".
Meanwhile, as of December 30, 2011, 51 cases of wild poliovirus were reported in eight Nigerian states, compared with 21 cases in 2010. Polio virus from Nigeria is also genetically linked to transmission in Chad, Niger and Mali, making it critical to stop the spread of the disease to neighboring countries.
Hence the challenge calls on the Executive Governors and Local Government Area (LGA) Chairmen to play a visible role in promoting polio eradication, to release funds in a timely manner for immunization, and to work closely with traditional leaders to make sure no children are being left out of immunization activities.
According to Chairman of the Nigeria Governors' Forum, Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, "The sooner we end polio, the sooner we can ensure that our children, and the children of the world, stop suffering from this debilitating disease.
Meeting this Challenge will enable us to focus on other health priorities and also help Nigeria to join other countries that have eliminated this disease."
However,as Nigeria reaches the deadline for polio eradication this year, there are rising concerns whether it will be able to meet the challenge.
Speaking at a National Consultative Stakeholders' Conference on Polio Eradication in Nigeria organized by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) in Abuja recently , the minister of state for Health, Dr Muhammad Ali Pate expressed worry over the number of cases Nigeria is contending with, saying that Nigeria has 60 out of 600 cases of polio cases worldwide.
India once recognized as world's epicentre of polio recently celebrated a major achievement of recording one polio case ,thus leaving Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the category of polio-endemic nations.