With the imminent accelerated Polio Programme ramp down in Nigeria, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Country Representative (WR) Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo has taken his advocacy train on the implementation of the Polio Transition Plan to Mallam Muhammed Musa Bello, the Honourable Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The meeting held on 11 May 2021 at the Minister’s Conference Room comes on the heels of the accelerated polio ramp down plan which means that with polio-free status, WHO will no longer receive funding for the polio programme from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) starting January 2022.
In his opening remarks during the meeting, Dr Mulombo appreciated the Minister for, “all your efforts at improving the health indicators in FCT. Through the Polio infrastructure we have been providing support in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of public health programmes, aimed at preventing, promoting and protecting the health of the Nigerian population in line with the goals and objectives of the National Health Plan.
Through this structure, we were able to achieve Polio eradication and sustain certification standard surveillance in the Territory since the last reported WPV case in 2013 in FCT.”
Unfortunately, with the success comes the grim reality of dwindling resources and the fact that from January 2022, the GPEI partnership has indicated that it will be withdrawing funding support to Nigeria in order to squarely concentrate resources on eradication efforts in the two last endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The WR recalled that Nigeria was removed from the list of three remaining wild polio virus (WPV) endemic countries globally in August 2020. Despite the certification, the work on polio eradication continues in order to forestall the risks of importation until global certification is attained. Furthermore, circulating vaccine derived polio virus (cVDPV2) outbreaks continue to remain a major risk to the programme due to sub optimal population immunity.
With this realization, the WR solicited the support of the FCT Minister to ensure that the skilled and experienced manpower and assets are absorbed by government for continuity and support other public health interventions.
Specifically, the WR mentioned that these resources can be utilized to strengthen routine immunization, consolidate investment in disease surveillance and support revitalisation of primary healthcare services which align with the government’s health agenda.
Responding to the WR’s prayer, the FCT Minister said, “we will provide the needed support so that the success of the polio programme and the capacity built over the years do not go down the drain”.
He mentioned that, Nigeria can not be complacent as no “country is free of polio except eradication is achieved everywhere”. He also noted the significance of transferring polio assets to address other public health concerns as tabled by the WR.
According to him, “We will leverage on the rich pool of trained staff to boost the PHC workforce, working on internal assessment for appropriate data to see how many of the Polio workforce the FCT can absorb.”
Furthermore, the Minister asked WHO to consider working hard on engaging private sector stakeholders like the CACOVID in COVID-19 response including vaccination. He promised that the FCT can support hosting of private sector donors as may be required.
During the meeting, WHO Africa Regional Director, General Management Cluster, Mr Mahen Sandrasagren, and Dr Pascal Mkanda the Polio Eradication Programme Coordinator who participated virtually, acknowledged the great achievements of the polio eradication programme in Nigeria but rued that funding for the programme will be withdrawn at the end of 2021. With this scenario, the government of Nigeria will have to take over funding of polio functions or mobilize resources so that transition is seamless and to avoid rolling back the success achieved with polio eradication.
In the FCT, WHO has a technical team made up of national professional officers, LGA Facilitators and a state Coordinator to support efforts to improve disease surveillance, routine immunization coverage, supplemental immunization activities and also support efforts in addressing the burden of non-communicable diseases, emergencies and health system strengthening. WHO personnel in the FCT also support the training and capacity building in early warning systems for public health events and in preparedness for emergency response among other interventions.
Senior Management officers from the FCT and WHO attended the meeting.
Support for polio eradication to the Government of Nigeria through WHO, is made possible by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Department for International Development, European Union, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Global Affairs Canada, Government of Germany, through KfW Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Korea Foundation for International Healthcare, Rotary International, United States Agency for International Development, United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and World Bank.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Nigeria.
WR (Left) with the Honorable Minister of Federal Capital Territory Mohammed Musa Bello