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Nigeria reaffirms commitment to polio eradication

afrol News, 4 September - Federal Nigerian authorities have reaffirmed its commitment to the global goal of polio eradication and announced three rounds of national immunisation campaigns between this month and the end of 2004. The setback in polio immunisation in Nigeria suffered after the state of Kano suspended the campaign in 2003 "is now history," Nigeria's Health Minister yesterday promised the WHO.

- The federal government of Nigeria hereby states its continued commitment to polio eradication through national ownership and strengthened partnerships, Nigeria's Health Minister Eyitayo Lambo yesterday told African leaders of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO's regional committee for Africa is currently meeting in Brazzaville, Congo.

Minister Lambo said that Nigeria's polio immunisation exercise planned for 6 to 9 September would be conducted in eight highly endemic states of Nigeria, harbouring 81 percent of the wild poliovirus in the country. Another round of vaccination was planned for 8 to 9 October, and the last for the year was to take place from 20 to 23 November.

Further, five national immunisation days and one sub-national immunisation day would be conducted in 2005, Mr Lambo told the African WHO leaders. The Nigerian government thus is complying with the WHO's demand for a forceful anti-polio campaign in the country, from were polio has been spreading to ten African countries during the last year due to a halt in immunisation in the northern state of Kano.

Minister Lambo stated that although reaching 40 million children under the age of five was a huge challenge for his country of more than 130 million people, "through concerted efforts of government and partners, we had, by 2002, reduced the endemicity of wild poliovirus to eight of 36 states and the federal capital territory, Abuja, and to 21 out of the 774 local government areas" in the country.

The suspension, in 2003, of immunisation in parts of northern Nigeria especially in Kano State over vaccine safety controversy, has been blamed by WHO for the resurgence of wild poliovirus and the re-infection of a number of previously polio-free countries in the region. The suspension was finally lifted early last month after strong pressure from African governments and the WHO.

Stressing that the setback experienced during 2003-2004 "is now history," the Nigerian Minister said: "The good news is that the Nigerian government at all levels, following the resolution of this impasse, has redoubled its commitment to the eradication of the wild poliovirus and [contributing to] achieving a polio-free world."

The Nigerian "commitment to polio eradication" was hailed by the African WHO leaders united in Brazzaville. Without a Nigerian commitment to fight polio, the WHO goal of soon eliminating the disease from the face of earth would have been an illusion. African governments have been terrified by the possibility of a resurface of the almost eradicated virus in their country due to opposition in Nigeria.

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