WHO Representative urges Borno, the last polio sanctuary, to remain vigilant despite Certification

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Maiduguri, 23 September, 2020- The World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to Nigeria, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo has congratulated Borno, the last wild polio virus (WPV) sanctuary in Africa, for making Nigeria and Africa proud.

The WR made the remark when he met Six-year old Modu Busami, the last case of WPV in Africa who hails from a security-compromised Monguno local government area (LGA) of Borno state.

After more than two years without the detection of WPV in Nigeria, the government reported four laboratory confirmed WPV1 cases with onset between July and August 2016. All four cases were detected from Borno State, in children between 2 and 5 years of age. Modu Busami is the last surviving case of WPV in Nigeria and by extension, Africa.

On 25 August 2020, the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication officially declared that the WHO African Region was free of WPV. This feat notwithstanding, Dr Mulombo acknowledged that WPV-free certification is undoubtedly the greatest public health triumph in the annals of Nigeria and indeed Africa and Borno played a crucial role towards achievement of the milestone.

In his words, the WR said, “Although, Africa has been certified polio free, following this last case in Borno state, Nigeria should remain vigilant and sustain active surveillance especially across the borders to forestall resurgence or importation of polio virus from any quarters. Nigeria should not lower its vaccination guards until global eradication of wild polio virus is achieved.”

Meeting Africa’s last case of wild polio

The Borno state WHO field office organized for the WR to meet with the last surviving polio case of WPV on 18 September 2020 in Maiduguri, Borno state during the UN team’s advocacy visit to the humanitarian emergency states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, led by United Nations Resident Coordinator, Edward Kallon and WHO Representative to Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo

During the meeting, the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr Edward Kallon, explained that eradication of polio was a renewed hope for a better life to victims of the paralyzing disease. According to him, little Modu has typified polio eradication in Africa and globally. “It is only now that I can see and feel polio eradication initiative,” says Kallon. “In little Modu, I can now feel the impact of the decades of efforts to save the world from this debilitating disease. Congratulations, Modu.”

Mr Kallon offered life scholarship to little Modu and called on parents to always avail their children to be vaccinated against polio to prevent resurgence.

As at 2016, when Modu was diagnosed with WPV, he had never been vaccinated against polio virus either during routine or supplemental immunization days.

Onset of paralysis for little Modu

With a devastating voice, Aisha, Modu’s mother recounts her ordeal when her son fell ill that fateful day.

It started like a fever and then progressed with excruciating pains on both legs, says Aisha Kolo, 28-year-old mother of Modu Busami who was confirmed as a case wild polio virus with date of onset being 06 August 2016. We applied local herbs to no avail. In less than 24 hours, my son who was strong and agile the previous day, started limping as the pain progressed. Day after day, I took my son from one community medicine vendor to another, with little or no improvement.

Nigeria’s battle with wild polio has been long and complex. There have been numerous setbacks along the way to achieving wild poliovirus free status. In the northern part of Nigeria where Borno is located, polio eradication initiative was greeted with pockets of mistrust, myth and vaccine hesitancy. Modu’s parents suspected that an evil spirit was responsible for their son’s misfortune until Modu was confirmed a case of WPV type 1.

“Unable to understand what else it could be, I concluded that an evil spirit must have infected my son. In fact, I suspected and initially resisted the team that came to collect his stool sample until neighbours and father-in-law pressured me to consent. They collected his stool twice and came back later to inform us that wild polio virus was responsible for my son’s condition. I thank God, the government and WHO for the free medications and rehabilitation. At least my son can still walk though limping”.

Support for EPI to the Federal Government of Nigeria through WHO is made possible by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Department for International Development (DFID – UK), European Union, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Government of Germany through KfW Bank, Global Affairs Canada, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Community Chest Korea, KOFIH (Korea), Rotary International and the World Bank.

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