By Oladeinde Olawoyin
On June 19, 2020, major Nigerian legacy newspapers reported that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Nigeria polio-free, leaving the devastating disease endemic in only two countries of the world; Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The news instantly went viral across social media platforms in Nigeria, due largely to the influence of the newspaper platforms that reported it. The news was also amplified by a series of tweets by leading officials of government, including President Muhammadu Buhari.
Prominent among the leading Nigerian newspapers that reported the claim include Vanguard newspaper, PUNCH newspaper, THISDAY newspaper, BusinessDay newspaper, as well as numerous other blogs and websites.
In its report, Vanguard newspaper claimed that the decision followed “the completion of documentation for the free status.”
THISDAY newspaper on its part reported that:
Nigeria has “since the last three years not recorded a case of the virus until it was Thursday declared polio free.”
In its own version, PUNCH newspaper said that the “devastating disease was at the moment endemic in only two countries, thereby bringing the world one major step closer to achieving the goal of ending polio for good.”
BusinessDay newspaper also reported same, adding that WHO “has declared Nigeria free of wild polio”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Nigeria polio-free, following the completion of documentation for the free status.
FALSE. The claim that WHO has declared Nigeria polio-free is NOT true. This is not supported by information from credible sources and the World Health Organisation (WHO) itself.
On June 19, the World Health Organisation announced that Nigeria’s complete documentation for Wild Polio virus free status was accepted by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC).
Tweeting via its regional office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, official twitter account @WHOAFRO, the agency added that it was a historic day for the West African nation.
“Today, Nigeria’s complete documentation for Wild Polio virus free status was accepted by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC). It is a historic day for Nigeria, Africa and the Global Polio Programme,” the tweet reads.
Today, Nigeria’s complete documentation for #WildPoliovirus free status was accepted by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC).— WHO Nigeria (@WHONigeria) June 18, 2020
It is a historic day for Nigeria, Africa and the Global Polio Programme! pic.twitter.com/h2mEngkKXv
In his reaction, Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director and CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), described the documentation as historical.
Tweeting via @drfaisalshuaib, he noted: “Amazing moment in history to have had our polio-eradication documentation accepted by (ARCC); the Nigeria team led by NPHCDA and partners demonstrated evidence of our polio-free status.
Amazing moment in history to have had our polio-eradication documentation accepted by the African Regional Certification Committee (ARCC). The Nigeria team led by NPHCDA and partners demonstrated evidence of our polio-free status. pic.twitter.com/B9nplm7whV— Dr. Faisal Shuaib (@drfaisalshuaib) June 18, 2020
“Nigeria achieving a Wild Polio Virus-free status today, is significant on multiple fronts.
“I look back at the incredible leadership that has brought us here.
“Apart from President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, the two most important people who have made it possible due to their financial and technological contributions have been Mr Aliko Dangote and Mr Bill Gates.
“Thanks for this unquantifiable gift to Nigeria,’’ he said.
In a series of tweets on June 21, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari also echoed the same thoughts, claiming that the nation is now considered polio-free.
I congratulate all Nigerians as our country attains this historic status of being free from the Wild Polio Virus. So many partners, local and international, have contributed tirelessly to this feat — we are deeply grateful to each and every one of you.— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) June 21, 2020
“I congratulate all Nigerians as our country attains this historic status of being free from the Wild Polio Virus. So many partners, local and international, have contributed tirelessly to this feat — we are deeply grateful to each and every one of you,” the president wrote in a tweet via his verified handle, @MBuhari.
“This achievement reflects the resilient spirit of Nigerians, in particular the strength and capacity of our health workers, who drew resources and support from multiple sectors to deal a final blow to the Wild Polio Virus.
“This achievement is not only one of the great successes of this generation of Nigerians but also one of the obvious dividends of this administration, which is consistent with our progressive investment in the health of our people since 2015. This landmark achievement is also a promise kept to all Nigerians. As you will recall, in August 2015, barely three months after we assumed office, …
“I promised Nigerians that: “My government shall provide the necessary resources and commitment required to strengthen the health system, routine immunization and ensure the country is certified Polio-free.”
The president said that in 2016, when Nigeria suffered a major setback with the outbreak of the Wild Polio Virus in Borno State, after about 2 years without any case, he directed the immediate release of N9.8billion to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to contain the outbreak.
“Subsequently, we have been meeting all our financial obligations to bilateral and multilateral agreements, and have also provided the moral support and leadership required at all levels to motivate the men and women in the frontline of polio eradication in Nigeria,” he tweeted.
“In addition, we sincerely appreciate our donors and development partners who stood by the country during those trying times.
“This achievement of polio free status is a hard-won battle spanning over three decades of hard work and dedication by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the Federal, States and Local Governments, polio eradication teams at all levels, our donors and development partners, both local and international.”
The president also listed and thanked several other local and international partners who helped the nation attain its “polio-free status.”
To verify these claims that Nigeria has indeed been certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), on June 20, this fact-checker reached out to the spokesperson of WHO in Nigeria, Charity Warigon.
First, in a telephone interview, the WHO spokesperson explained that the claim is incorrect.
In a subsequent email response, she noted that the official declaration of Nigeria as a polio free country is yet to be made by the global health agency, adding that completion of the documentation exercise implies that the nation has successfully stopped the circulation of wild poliovirus within the country.
The WHO official added that the declaration would be done at the WHO regional committee for Africa meeting, scheduled for August.
“What happened on 18 June, 2020 was that Nigeria’s documentation for wild polio virus free status was accepted by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC),” Ms Warigon said in the email response.
“This implies that there is no indigenous circulation of the wild poliovirus in Nigeria. Put differently, Nigeria has successfully stopped the circulation of wild poliovirus within the country.
“Thus, we’d like to clarify that WHO does not declare countries polio status. Rather, the independent ARCC is the only entity responsible for certifying the region. Also to highlight that certification is at regional level and not for individual countries. Reason why, last week the ARCC only accepted the complete documentation of the last 4 countries in the region, including Nigeria. This means that these countries now have a wild polio-free status but the region won’t be certified until the Commission reviews and accepts all the updated reports from the rest of the countries.”
POLIO IN NIGERIA
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease, which essentially affects young children. It is a virus spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, through contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis. Although there is no cure for polio, it is preventable through effective vaccination.
The last paralysis linked to wild poliovirus was detected in Nigeria in August 2016. WHO Africa region has not been declared polio free since the last incident. Similarly, the last environment sample with traces of the wild poliovirus was detected in Kaduna State from a sewage sample collected in May 2014.
While Nigeria has interrupted the spread of the wild poliovirus, there are concerns about a new form of polio known as Circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2, spreading across some countries in Africa.
There are 12 African countries in the WHO African Region experiencing the outbreak. They include Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia.
In August 2019, the African Region became eligible to be certified free of wild poliovirus after Nigeria recorded no new cases of wild poliovirus for three consecutive years. This is the requisite period for countries to be certified polio-free.
Consequently, on June 19, Nigeria’s documentation for wild polio virus free status was accepted by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC).
The claim that Nigeria has been certified polio-free as contained in reports by leading national newspapers in Nigeria and tweets by Nigeria’s president is FALSE. Tweeting via @WHOAFRO, the World Health Organisation ONLY announced that Nigeria’s complete documentation for Wild Polio virus free status had been accepted by the Africa Regional Certification Commission for polio eradication (ARCC). The polio-free declaration has not been done and, according to WHO officials, it might be done LATER in August.
Again, Nigeria cannot be singled out and declared polio-free as an individual country because certification is always done at regional level and not for individual countries.