The Nigeria army will henceforth conduct polio vaccination in locations in Borno State made inaccessible to health workers by the Boko Haram insurgency, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has said.
This decision was taken as the world looks up to Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa to do the needful for the eradication of poliomyelitis in the world.
It is expected that if no new case of polio virus is detected in Nigeria by August, Africa will attain the wild polio eradication goal, thereby making the entire world polio-free.
But for the 2016 outbreak of polio virus in Borno State, Africa would have long ago celebrated the kicking out of poliomyelitis in its continent.
With Boko Haram holding several territories in the state and making health workers unable to get the polio vaccine to children in those community, it appeared that the August 2019 deadline may not be realised unless something extraordinary is done.
It is against the background that Nigeria looks up to its military to help Africa realise that goal.
To this end, Mr Buratai on May 14 re-inaugurated what he called The Theatre Command Buratai Initiative Task Force (TCBITF).
The task force was set up to help eradicate polio in Borno State. It could be recalled that the BITF was in 2016 inaugurated but its activities later went down.
According to the chief of army staff, "Nigeria being one of the three countries in the world, with Borno as the only state with the last known case wild case of polio virus," warranted the establishment of the BITF.
Mr Buratai, a lieutenant-general, spoke in a keynote address at the opening of sensitisation training for soldiers on polio eradication.
The programme on Saturday was organised by the Nigerian army in collaboration with the Borno State Primary Health Development Agency and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The army chief said in the last three years, the initiative has reached many insecure communities with the oral polio vaccine, thereby enhancing the progress in polio interruption in the northeast.
Despite that achievement, Mr Buratai, who was represented by the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Benson Akinroluyo, said "there still remain areas where children were not reached with the vaccine due to the insurgency by the Boko Haram terrorists."
The National Primary Healthcare Commission on May 14 urged the army to step up the activities of the BITF in the unreached areas "in order to deescalate the risk of polio transmission.
In response, Mr Buratai instructed that a task force be set up at the Headquarters of the Theatre Command and replicated in all the sectors, brigades and units level across the theatre.
"This is to ensure deep penetration of all settlements which were hitherto inaccessible are reached within three months as against six months proposed by the NPHC," said the Theatre Commander.
With this development, Mr Akinroluyo said the Theatre Commander BITF becomes the central coordinating task for the polio eradication in Northeast Nigeria.
Headed by Augustine Omogbethai, the commander 7 Division medical services and hospital, the BITF is charged to liaise and collaborate with the Borno state PHDA, to ensure the inaccessible settlements are reached, and also collate the implementation sectors' reports.
Mr Akinrolyo said the task forces at the Brigade, units, divisional, brigade and battalion levels, are to be headed by the respective medical commanders with the support of their medical personnel and teams from the state and local government areas.
He said the idea is to ensure prompt and effective administration of polio vaccines to the unreached settlements.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that Since May 14 when the task force was set up in Maiduguri, the BITF has mapped out its strategies which include clustering of the theatre environment into six zones, establishment of four levels of engagements to get the vaccines to the unreached settlements and further composition of the BITF at formations and unit levels.
The Theatre commander said he is optimistic that the sensitisation programmed for soldiers on polio will add impetus to the drive for the eradication of polio in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Executive Director, Borno State PHCDA, Sule Mele, said it was as a result of the commitments of the theatre Command that the state was able to achieve 32 months without any case of wild polio outbreak.
Mr Mele said about 37 per cent of the Borno state unreached settlements is still inaccessible due to the activities of the Boko Haram.
"We've also been able to reach 63 per cent of our inaccessible settlements with life-saving oral polio vaccines," he said.
"Our civilian vaccination teams were able to visit inaccessible settlements due to the improved security situation in the state. Despite the successes; there is still more work to be done."
According to him, there are still an estimated 60,484 unreached children trapped in 2,622 settlements in the state.
"We need to reach these children and communities before October this year."
Commending the Chief of Army staff for reinvigorating the BITF, Mr Mele said his directives would enable Nigeria to reach the children in those isolated communities by August.
He said "the country and Africa are looking up to the military to access these settlements to achieve polio-free certification.
Head of the BITF, Mr Omogbethai said the task before him and his men is very clear.
"The training seminar is to equip the military officers who will be in the forefront of the final administration of polio vaccines in unreached locations with the adequate knowledge and technicalities of administering the vaccine," said Mr Omogbethai, a medical doctor.
"The officers being trained will further down step the knowledge gained at their various units and it is so designed so that we can get this done with within three months."