Nigeria Marks 365days Polio Free Backed By Gates' Billions Campaign

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For the first time Nigeria is set to eradicate polio as it marks one year with no new cases after billions of dollars spent by a global campaign backed by Bill and Melinda Gates and the United Nations.
Though hitting the milestone on Friday, it will take two years of monitoring before Nigeria, the last African polio-endemic country, can be certified as free of the virus, Melissa Corkum, chief Nigeria polio spokeswoman at the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in an interview from the nation’s capital, Abuja.
“If Nigeria comes off the list of endemic countries, there’ll only be two countries left,” Corkum said, referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “That will be historic. There’s only one other disease that’s ever been eradicated globally and that’s small pox.”
About $1 billion a year is being spent by partners of a worldwide polio eradication initiative, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, World Health Organization and Rotary International. Nigeria has struggled to combat the virus due to past governmental inaction, while Boko Haram’s six-year Islamist insurgency in the north has slowed immunization efforts.
Little Support
Increased immunization coverage in Nigeria could prevent as many as 35,000 deaths between 2014 and 2018 and an economic benefit of about $4 billion in Africa’s largest economy, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
While Nigeria has had more than 20,000 cases of polio since 1980, according to WHO data, the campaign has focused on prevention, with little support provided to those already struck by the disease.
At age five, Ayuba Gufwan was paralyzed below the waist by polio.
“It’s our expectation that with the reduction in the incidence of polio, we can begin to focus on helping out neglected polio survivors,” said Gufwan, 43, who has hired dozens of polio victims to build wheelchairs in the central city of Jos for those handicapped by the disease.
While almost a million people are members of the Nigerian Association of Polio Survivors, the total number of the disease’s victims is unknown, said Misbahu Lawan Didi, the head of the Abuja-based group.
Maintain Surveillance
Didi said in an interview that survivors need mobility equipment, accessible infrastructure, community acceptance and education.
“Once you had polio, you were seen as a beggar and that’s slowly changing,” he said. “If you have education, you won’t beg on the streets.”
Even with no new cases being recorded, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative estimates as much as $250 million is required to maintain surveillance and laboratory capacity in countries at risk.
“Once you have it, not much can be done given the resources that we have and where we need to allocate those,” said Muhammad Pate, visiting professor at the Duke Global Health Institute and a former Nigerian health minister who used to chair the presidential task force on polio.
Nigeria could have paid more attention to rehabilitation, said Pate, but eradication was an achievable goal.
“Just a few drops can prevent polio and yet we had hundreds of our kids — sometimes even thousands — getting infected,” he said.
Corrective Surgeries
Rotary has raised funds to carry out bi-annual corrective surgeries, train Nigerian doctors and fly in surgeons from India, said Tunji Funsho, chairman of Rotary’s Nigerian polio committee.
Yet only 780 free surgeries have been carried out on 353 survivors, out of nearly 600,000 candidates, according to Nigeria’s National Primary Healthcare Development Agency.
While President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office on May 29, hasn’t outlined his health policies, the last administration increased its funding to reach $80 million in 2015.
“We need to make sure the new government is also committed to finishing the job,” Corkum said. “We shouldn’t lose momentum.”

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