As part of efforts to get rid of polio mellitus in Nigeria and India, the two countries with highest number of polio cases in the world are partnering on intervention for communities at high risk, writes Patrick Ugeh
The officials of the World Health Organization, WHO, will be coming to Nigeria to provide some level of leadership at the community level with a view to stamping out polio, which has been a blight on the image of the country - one of the few still with cases of the virus in the world.
The advent of the officials, who had worked relentlessly in India to ensure the end of polio in that country is part of a strategic partnership with Nigeria.
While here, they will also share thoughts on some of the lessons from India that Nigeria could take advantage of in its efforts to tackle the polio scourge.
Towards accomplishing the same goal, Nigeria and India are partnering on how best to reach communities at high risk.
These facts were made known in Abuja during a stakeholders' roundtable to examine and proffer solutions to the difficulties faced by Nigeria in eradicating polio, the childhood crippling disease.
The brainstorming was at the instance of Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria ( HERFON) which brought civil society organisations to find ways of strengthening accountability and proffering solutions to the challenges of routine immunisation.
One major problem identified by an Assistant Director at the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Sina Adelakun, was the joint account system between states and local government councils.
He said it was a huge hindrance to the administration of routine immunisation at the community level. According to him, "Funds for distribution, storage and maintenance of vaccines and conduct of outreaches are not often available in the local areas. Council chairmen are also not available to offer support.
"In addition is the problem of inadequate power for the national grid, availability of adequate storage facilities and equipment," he said. In the same vein, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, said at the session that sustaining the current tempo of immunisation in the country was critical to reaching more children and eradicating polio.
"I do not see anything that India is doing that is impossible in Nigeria," he said.
"We have a relationship with India that will enhance the work we are doing. One has to be open to learn from others.
A few of their medical personnel will come to work with some Nigerian officials at high risk areas.
"They are not replicating their modules. They are providing support to WHO officials who worked in India. They learnt a lot from Nigeria in the past and there is a lot we can also learn from such officials now."
The President in charge of Global Development at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Christopher Elias, threw more light on the issue: "Twenty-two months ago, India recorded the last case of polio, giving hope that polio eradication is possible. Key to India's success is social mobilisation at the community level."
He however acknowledged that polio cases were limited to a few local government areas in Nigeria, adding that Nigeria could strengthen its polio war using the micro plan strategy that India used.
On how the strategy could prove more effective in reaching a greater number of persons at the local areas, Elias urged the federal and state governments to apply additional political will in the polio war.
According to him, India had since moved out of polio eradication to building a routine immunization system that is now concerned with other immunization issues like measles.
While lauding the efforts of Nigerian officials to eradicate polio, Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation, Jeff Raikes, stressed that poor political will at the local government level was still a big issue.
Describing their visit to Kano last week as an eye opener and that it spoke of great potentials for eventual eradication of polio, he said: "We saw the many challenges, but the opportunities of success are more. The target to eradicate polio by 2015 would require improvement in the campaign."
To further strengthen its projects in the areas of immunization, agriculture, and others, he said the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would name a country representative for Nigeria early next year.
"In September, 2012, the Gates Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Nigeria," he stated.
"The MoU enables the foundation to appoint a country representative in Nigeria and establish a presence in Abuja to support ongoing efforts to build and strengthen partnerships with key stakeholders in government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector."
A former WHO consultant, Dr. Anne Okigbo, who chaired the civil society roundtable, noted that issues of accountability were reoccurring in the country.