Polio experts have said if Nigeria sustains its current trend of not detecting or reporting any new case of wild polio virus, Nigeria and Africa at large should be certified polio free before the end of 2020.
This was disclosed by the Coordinator, Polio Eradication Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Regional Office, Pascal Mkanda, in a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.
Speaking during the 37th session of Expert Review Committee (ERC) on Polio Eradication and Routine Immunisation (RI) in Nigeria, Mr Mkanda said that the country might be giving its polio free certification having achieved the milestones of being three years' wild polio-free.
He said the African Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication certification will start conducting field verification and reviewing documentation of interruption of wild polio virus (WPV) from next week.
He said if the ARCC is satisfied with the national documentation and field verification, the WHO African Region could be certified to have eradicated WPV by mid-2020.
The ERC meets periodically to evaluate the progress made in ensuring a polio-free Nigeria.
The monitoring body also provides guidance to the government and development partners on best practices in routine immunisation in Nigeria.
The 37th ERC members who converged to deliberate on key decisions concerning polio eradication and routine immunisation in Nigeria identified critical gaps that should be bridged to maintain the present status towards polio certification.
Mr Mkanda, on behalf of ERC members, acknowledged the work done by the programme, especially by the frontline workers who continually work in very challenging situations.
"If Nigeria gets it right, Africa could be certified Polio-free soon," he said.
He, however, cautioned Nigeria to focus more attention on stopping the transmission of all types of polio viruses.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children.
The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, through contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and can cause paralysis.
Nigeria is one of the remaining four countries in Africa (Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, Cameroon and Nigeria) that are yet to have documentation accepted for Polio Certification.
Nigeria had almost achieved the feat earlier but recorded a setback in 2016.
However, since August 2016, the country has not recorded any new case of the virus. It is hopeful that the situation remains by March 2020, Nigeria may be certified polio-free.
The new cause for concern, however, is a new form of polio known as Circulating Vaccine- derived poliovirus circulating in some countries in Africa.
Currently, 12 African countries in the WHO African Region, namely: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia are experiencing the outbreak.
Vaccine-derived polioviruses are rare, but these viruses are sometimes found in severely under-immunised populations living in areas with inadequate sanitation.
Meanwhile, Mr Mkanda said it is important that the Nigerian government and partners avoid any complacency that could jeopardise Nigeria's removal from the list of polio-endemic countries and certification of wild polio virus interruption for the African Region.
While the ERC concurs with the Nigeria Programme that the transmission of WPV1 is unlikely, experts are calling on government to intensify its efforts at reaching children in inaccessible areas with vaccines.
They said Nigeria needs to put in mind that the resurgence of the wild polio virus reported in 2016 was largely due to insecurity in the North-east and a waning political commitment.
They agreed that sustaining the success is hinged on systematic processes focused on reaching children in inaccessible areas, providing timely and adequate resources as well as strengthening routine immunization
The ERC also raised concerns on the issues of non-compliance in some communities in Northern Nigeria, especially in Sokoto state.
ERC recommended that the programme should fast track the roll-out of key messages, including engaging journalists to create awareness and to address the circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV2) transmission in the context of zero WPV1 status in the country.
The ERC recommended that the programme continues the engagement of traditional, religious and community leaders to sustain the gains on immunisation.
Before departing Nigeria, the ERC members also informed the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, of their observations and recommendations