Getting the ‘last hair’ in Nigeria

Dr. Muhammad Pate, executive director of Nigeria’s National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, says the country’s polio program has provided the momentum to combat other vaccine-preventable diseases. Read the original post on the Gates Foundation’s Foundation Notes blog.

In Nigeria we have made remarkable progress in the fight against polio, with intense campaigns that drove polio down from 388 cases in 2009 to 21 in 2010 — a 95 percent reduction. We are extremely hopeful that these gains continue, although much hard work remains.

This progress is largely due to the immense momentum of our polio campaign, which has demonstrated that immunizations are safe, cost-effective tools to prevent infectious diseases and ultimately save children’s lives. We have seen non-compliance rates for immunizations fall because parents and traditional leaders have witnessed the effectiveness of oral polio vaccines to protect their children from paralysis and death.

The polio program has provided the momentum to combat other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, that are costing lives of young children. In January, Nigeria launched a major campaign to administer both measles and polio vaccines to 31 million children under five — protecting children from two diseases. And during an upcoming national campaign later this month, health workers at fixed posts around the country will offer children doses of oral polio vaccines — along with an integrated package of other health interventions, including Vitamin A, deworming tablets and other routine immunizations.

From this broad perspective, conquering polio has an impact far beyond the immediate benefits of eradication. Perhaps polio eradication’s most enduring legacy will be that it lays the groundwork for countries like Nigeria to defeat other childhood diseases.

Still, there is significant work to be done. As long as polio exists in Nigeria, it can exist anywhere. To finally finish the job, we must keep up the momentum for mass immunization campaigns. Once Nigeria and the world win the fight against polio, it will inspire us to continue our intense efforts to tackle other pressing health challenges.

The Hausa people, who live in northern Nigeria, have a saying: When you shave a man’s head, it is getting the last hair that is the most difficult. Similarly, the final chapter of polio eradication -– in Nigeria and globally — will require even more effort than the previous ones. We must continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our momentum is sustained — so that we finish the job on polio and build upon that success to protect children from other deadly diseases.

-Dr. Muhammad Pate, executive director of Nigeria’s National Primary Healthcare Development Agency