President Muhammadu Buhari is confident that the African continent can defeat the raging COVID-19, just like it did Wild Polio.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), Africa Region, formally certified Africa Polio-free during the 70th Session of its Regional Committee.
Addressing the virtual session on Tuesday from Abuja, Buhari noted, “I recall that shortly after assuming office in May 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor.
“This certification is, therefore, a personal fulfilment of that pledge to not only Nigerians, but to all Africans.
“At a time when the global community is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that with the requisite political will, investments and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, we will flatten the epidemic curve.
“I can affirm the commitment of all African leaders to this course of action.”
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Recall that the WHO had earlier declared Nigeria, one of the worst-hit countries, free of the disease, before it finally gave a clean bill to the rest of the continent.
Buhari assured the rest of the world that Nigeria would sustain the momentum and leverage on the lessons learnt from polio eradication to strengthen its health system.
Explaining how Nigeria defeated Polio, Buhari said the country used data systems, community engagement and innovative technology to monitor and predict the occurrence of polio outbreaks.
He disclosed that today, the same approach was being deployed to fight COVID-19 “and the multi-country outbreaks of Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Viruses.”
He commended President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Chairman of the African Union, whose leadership completed the race to wipe out polio from the continent.
Buhari recalled how way back in 1996, the late President Nelson Mandela launched the ‘Kick Polio out of Africa’ campaign.
The Presidency stated that Buhari thanked Dr Matshidiso Moeti and the WHO Regional Committee for Africa “on their untiring efforts, contributions and leadership towards polio eradication in Africa.”
Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari further, “We must guard this achievement of the eradication of Wild Polio Virus in Africa jealously and ensure that we take all necessary steps to prevent a resurgence of this dreaded disease.
“This will require maintaining the highest quality of surveillance and sustaining population immunity through increasing routine immunisation coverage and supplemental immunisation activities.
“It is heartwarming to note how the strong partnership between the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and Governments of African countries worked tirelessly and collaboratively to deliver this success.”
The president also thanked health workers and volunteers across the region, ministers of health and other stakeholders for their decades of resilience with support from “political, traditional, religious and community leaders who provided the required support and leadership.”
He added, “I would also like to appreciate the invaluable support of our donors, development and local partners such as WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, GAVI, USAID, European Union, Emeka Offor Foundation, the Japanese and German Governments, numerous NGOs and faith-based organisations.
“These are truly the heroes and heroines of many battles that have made us triumphant in the war against polio.”
Buhari also seized the opportunity to advise governments on the continent to sustain the vaccination of children in Africa in order to guarantee a healthy future.
He said, ‘‘We must continue to build trust between Government institutions, leaders and citizens, so that we can unite as a people and confront the health and socio-economic challenges we face together.”
The Chairman, Aliko Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, called for increased budgetary allocations to healthcare delivery.
He said he was overjoyed that finally, all the efforts put in to fight polio in Africa, paid off.