The recent declaration by President Goodluck Jonathan that over 90 per cent success has been achieved in efforts to eradicate polio in the country is welcome news for which Mr. Bill Gates of the United States of America must be appreciated.
Speaking when Gates, the founder of Microsoft incorporated, visited him, the President announced that polio cases in Nigeria have dropped from 256 in 2009 to just three. Gates is currently the co-chairman of Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation which has been in the forefront of the campaign for the eradication of polio in the country and in other parts of the world. He announced that the Foundation has so far committed a staggering $750million, over a trillion naira, to the initiative in Nigeria.
It is gladdening that the country has come this far in combating polio. 10 years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had raised alarm at the pace of the spread of the disease. Specifically, it said that Nigeria accounted for more than 77per cent of cases of polio globally and 84 percent in Africa.
Another body, Expert Review Committee on Polio in Nigeria(ERCPN) in 2001 reported that 785 Nigerian children were paralysed by wild polio in the penultimate year. The rapid manner the ailment was spreading led the then administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to set a five year plan for its eradication.
The target was not achieved largely because of insufficient funding of the campaign and the politics that was introduced to the immunization project. Some religious and political leaders in Kano had alleged that polio vaccines used for the immunization exercise were part of a plot by developed countries to spread Human Immuno Deficiency Syndrome Virus (HIV) and infertility in the North.
This claim led to the disruption of the polio immunization exercise, not only in Kano but in other parts of northern Nigeria. And the result was an increase in the rate of the spread of the disease to the extent that in 2004, all the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory(FCT) Abuja were reported to have recorded at least a case of the wild polio virus. Kano alone had a terrifying figure of 175.
Faced with this ugly situation, the intervention by the Gates Foundation was generally seen as a major breakthrough. So far, the foundation has shown uncommon commitment to the task of combating polio, leading to the success that is currently being celebrated.
However, though remarkable inroads have been made in the fight against the disease, it is premature to relax and clink glasses of total victory. Government must, instead, do more to ensure the total eradication of the scourge. It must not only continue to collaborate with the Gates’ Foundation, but must also commit substantial funds of its own to the campaign.
But in voting such funds, it is important to ensure that only people with proven records of integrity are engaged to husband such resources and other donations from different sources for the purpose they are meant. Unfortunately, lack of transparency in the use of resources has been one of the major set backs in the polio eradication campaign.
The project has been dogged by infuriating tales of either diversion of vaccines meant for free immunization of children or outright sale of such vaccines by the operatives. There have also been reports of facilities provided for the preservation of the vaccines like the cold chains, not being accounted for by people who are designated to look after them.
Such stories are, to say the least, nauseating and regrettable. Besides the fact that it means that some people are profiting from the pain, death and disfigurement of others, such stories are fast impacting negatively on the image of the country. For instance, just recently, there was a report that some donor agencies are considering withdrawing their aid to the country on account of weak accountability structures. A situation where aid from donor agencies for any projects do not make the desired impact on the masses is unacceptable.
Some Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) have lost the respect of the public because their officials are perceived as riding on the back of one social or political project to divert donations from international foundations and bodies for their personal use.
We urge the anti-graft agencies to show more than a passing interest in this ugly trend. They must curb it to restore the confidence of the diplomatic community and donor agencies in the country.
Also, the current achievement recorded in the polio eradication campaign must be improved upon. We appeal to wealthy Nigerians to follow the footsteps of the Gates’ Foundation and join forces with the government to totally eliminate the disease from the country. Only a 100 per cent success will suffice