March 17, 2011—With a dramatic 95% reduction in polio cases from 2009 to 2010, Nigeria is at a pivotal moment in the battle against the dreaded virus. A new credit from the World Bank of $60 million will help the country take further steps towards the ultimate goal of polio eradication, now within sight.
One of a handful of countries in the world where polio is still endemic, Nigeria reported only 21 cases by the end of 2010, down from 388 in 2009. Despite these extraordinary gains in recent years, mass immunization campaigns will need to extend into 2011 as the risk of polio resurgence remains high.
“The final chapter of polio eradication in Nigeria will require even more effort than the first,” said Dr. Mohammad Pate, Executive Director of Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). “But there are many reasons why this campaign deserves unwavering leadership and commitment. Stopping polio means our families will never again lose a child to this crippling, disfiguring disease.”
Dramatic decline in polio from 2009 to 2010
When the World Bank began supporting Nigeria’s anti-polio efforts in 2003, there were 4,000 cases of polio reported in the country. But with the support of traditional leaders and local government officials in northern Nigeria, where there was widespread mistrust of the polio vaccine, Nigeria has been able to rapidly build support for immunization and reduce the number of cases, especially in the past few years.
Polio Cases in Nigeria (2009 & 2010)
“We are witnessing truly remarkable and unprecedented progress in Nigeria, with cases slashed by an impressive 95% over the past 12 months,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, Director, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, World Health Organization. “This progress is the direct result of the strong leadership of the Nigerian government, and broad engagement of traditional and religious leaders across the country.”
“While more needs to be done to ensure all children across the country are fully immunized, the renewed support by the World Bank could not come at a more crucial time—it will help ensure that the current momentum can be carried through across the finish line,” he said.
The geographical area in which the cases have been reported has also shrunk considerably, from 27 states in Nigeria in 2009 to just eight states in 2010.
“With the World Bank's support, and the leadership of the government, a polio-free Nigeria can be realistically attained in the very near term. And when this goal is reached, no Nigerian child will ever again have to know the pain of lifelong polio-paralysis,” Dr. Aylward said.
Financing visible results
The World Bank’s third credit to Nigeria for polio supports the country’s efforts to improve health results. These new funds will continue an earlier “buy down” provision, where other partners, including the UN Fund, Rotary International, Centers for Disease Control, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will convert the credit into a grant on condition that pre-agreed conditions are met.
The buy down of debt is triggered based on the results of an independent performance audit that determines whether the IDA funds achieve polio immunization coverage of at least 80% in each endemic state in Nigeria.
“It takes a whole country…”
Dr. Pate of the NPHCDA noted that Nigeria could build on the success against polio to improve routine immunization, and maternal and newborn health. “If we can reach every child with polio vaccine, we can surely reach every child with routine immunization and every mother with antenatal and postnatal care,” he said.
Achieving results has boosted confidence at the agency that Pate heads. “We’re doing what we said we would do, and these positive results will continue to translate to other projects,” Pate said. “It takes a whole country to make these changes, and Nigeria is now moving ahead. We have an African saying that if you want to go fast, you go alone, but if you want to go far, you go with others.”
“For the success of the immunization programs, there is the need for team work, especially between the government and the traditional institution,” said the Emir of Dikwa, Alhaji Kyari Umar El-Kanemi, Chairman of the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Healthcare delivery.
Echoing this message, the Emir of Dass, Alhaji Bilyaminu Othman Bilyaminu noted, “We are supporting the immunization exercise because we want to save the lives of our future… the children of today.”