Buhari thumps his chest as WHO declares Nigeria, Africa polio-free

President Muhammadu Buhari is praising himself after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Nigeria and the rest of Africa polio-free.

On Tuesday, the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for polio eradication officially declared Nigeria and the rest of Africa free of indigenous wild poliovirus.

According to WHO, this marks the eradication of the second virus from the face of the continent since smallpox 40 years ago.

In the early 1900s cases of smallpox were recorded in Nigeria, but upon the introduction of vaccines, the cases reduced drastically.

But anti-vaccination groups kicked against the immunisation jabs, leading to a resurgence of the virus, until the WHO championed a campaign that led to the eradication of smallpox in Nigeria in 1980.

“Today is a historic day for Africa. The African Regional Certification Commission for Polio eradication (ARCC) is pleased to announce that the Region has successfully met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication, with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported in the Region for four years,” Rose Leke, ARCC Chairperson, said.

“This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said.

“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists. I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause.

“However, we must stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of the vaccine-derived polio”.

But speaking at the event, Buhari said he has fulfilled his pledge to rid Nigeria of the indigenous wild poliovirus.

The President said he promised Nigerians that he would not hand over a Nigeria with polio to his successor, and has fulfilled that promise.

“This is indeed a truly historic event. I recall shortly after assuming office in 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor,” Buhari said

“This certification is, therefore, a personal fulfillment of that pledge, not only to Nigerians but to all Africans.”

Buhari congratulated the entire continent and the African Union leadership for crossing the finish line.

“At a time when the global community is battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that the requisite political will, investments, and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, will flatten the pandemic curve.

“I can affirm the commitment of all African leaders in this course of action. We must guard this achievement jealously and ensure that we take all necessary steps to prevent the resurgence of this deadly disease”.

The president appreciated the strong partnership and collaboration displayed to deliver this success.

He promised the global community that Nigeria will “sustian the momentum and leverage on the lessons learnt from the polio eradication to strengthen our health systems, especially primary healthcare and prioritise health security”.

Present at the event were a longlist of WHO officials; Robert Redfield, director, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Rose Leke, chairperson, Africa Regional Certification Commission;  Seth Berkley, CEO, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; and some polio survivors.

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