An initiative to increase polio vaccination in Nigeria has been a success, but continued commitment from the government is needed to help eradicate the virus from northern states, say officials.
The Immunization Plus Days (IPDs) initiative was launched in May 2006 by the National Programme on Immunization (NPI) ― a government initiative with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization — to tackle polio in the 18 northern regions still affected by the virus.
People in these states have refused the vaccine because of religious reasons or the belief that it renders women infertile.
The IPD initiative aims to counter these beliefs and provides supplemental health benefits such as vitamin A, de-worming tablets and vaccinations for measles, DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) as well as oral polio vaccine (OPV).
"The IPDs have really increased acceptance [of immunisation]," said Mustapha Mahmud, North-Central Zonal Coordinator for NPI.
Mahmud told SciDev.Net that the initiative has reduced cases of polio from 70 to four per month in the northern areas.
Nigeria has also implemented several Sub-National Immunization Days, during which OPV is administered to children aged 0–59 months through house-to-house visits by health workers.
But Mahmud warned that, despite the initiative, the northern states are still high-risk areas, as too many children do not receive immunisation. Polio vaccine is still not accepted in some areas and logistical and resource problems mean that not all areas are covered.
NPI chief executive Edugie Abebe said that the programme aims to address these issues by containing the virus and building capacity by training personnel.
"We aim to completely interrupt the transmission of the wild polio virus by 2007, by sustaining the gains we have made on immunisation in 2006," said Abebe.
Abebe pointed out that the federal government allocated $US8.3 million to buy vaccines in the 2007 budget. She said no Nigerian government has been this committed to polio eradication and expressed concern that this May's change of leadership might affect further progress.Nigeria accounts for 61 per cent of global polio cases and 95 per cent of cases in Africa, according to the disease surveillance unit of the World Health Organization. It is the country where polio is most endemic, though southern Nigeria has been polio-free for almost two years.