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Nigeria warned to act on wild polio rebound threat

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-16 09:52

The United Nations Children's Fund warned that the wild polio virus, which Nigeria has eradicated, may resurface in the country if preventive measures are not taken.

Elizabeth Onitolo, UNICEF communication for development specialist for Nigeria, gave this assessment during the opening of a three-day media dialogue in Nigeria on Tuesday.

Onitolo said more Nigerian children die from preventable diseases annually. She said that with the emergence of COVID-19 in Nigeria, routine immunization was affected, which might put many children at risk of preventable diseases.

"No child must die of polio again in Nigeria. We sincerely plead with the media to help us out by creating awareness and sensitizing the people on routine immunization. The Nigerian government is at a critical point of ensuring access to and uptake of routine immunization by children across the country," Onitolo said.

"Even though the country has been certified wild polio free, there is an urgent need to address the immunization situation in Nigeria with attention to COVID-19 and its impact on routine immunization, and the rollout of the vaccination for COVID-19 itself," she added.

Nigeria and the rest of Africa were formally certified free of the wild polio virus in August last year by the World Health Organization after no case was detected on the continent for three years. Nigeria was the last African country to eliminate the virus which can be prevented with adequate vaccination. Eight years ago, Nigeria accounted for half of the world's polio cases.

Vaccination remains vital

Noting the only way to keep safe is to vaccinate every child, Onitolo said many parents are not compliant, children are not vaccinated and environmental sanitation and personal hygiene in communities are still low, providing a possible breeding ground for a polio outbreak.

"It is over two years without polio in Nigeria and we want to ensure good surveillance. Furthermore, vaccine hesitancy is also frustrating efforts to fight the COVID-19 virus, which has infected over 160,000 people in Nigeria," Onitolo said.

She said many Nigerians are scared of getting vaccinated due to misinformation.

She called on the media to help change the mindset of Nigerians on COVID-19 and spread confidence it is safe to get vaccinated.

Lai Mohammed, Nigeria's minister of information and culture, said that the country is at a critical point in ensuring access to and uptake of routine immunization across the country. Mohammed said there is need to boost confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

He added the government would continue to leverage the media to promote messages on both the prevention of COVID-19 and increased vaccination.

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