Polio Eradication Will Take Funds and Awareness

A polio vaccinator administers the oral polio vaccine to a child in Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS - Even in the face of dwindling resources and competing demands, the push for total polio eradication must continue because as long as even a few people have polio, it could spread widely again

A polio vaccinator administers the oral polio vaccine to a child in Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ifeanyi Nsofor
ABUJA, Jun 22 2022 – For forty days, Kunle Adeyanju – a Nigerian, Rotarian, polio eradication advocate and biker – rode for more than 12,500km from London to Lagos to raise funds for polio eradication.

Adeyanju documented his journey on Twitter, where his handle is appropriately named @lionheart1759. Indeed, it takes one with a lion’s heart to embark on such a bold adventure. People like philanthropist Bill Gates, who works on polio eradication, and the CEO of Twitter, Parag Agrawal, tweeted out their support and admiration.

Even in the face of dwindling resources and competing demands, the push for the total eradication of polio must continue because as long as even a few people have polio, it could spread widely again

I also followed Adeyanju’s journey on Twitter, and I applaud him too, including because I love to see individuals pursue their dreams, no matter how terrifying it seems. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female President and former President of Liberia, aptly captures this sentiment, “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

I also support his cause. Polio is a serious infectious disease – it causes paralysis of muscles and also kills if the respiratory muscles are affected. In the past, polio victims who were unable to breathe on their own were placed in iron lung machines to enable them to breathe. Thanks to the efficacy of the polio vaccine, this is now history.

I am a proud alumnus of polio eradication. It was my first experience in global health. As a young monitoring, evaluation and surveillance officer at Nigeria’s National Programme on Immunization, I was involved in the global polio reaction initiative supporting advocacy, training of health workers and supervising routine and polio vaccinations across Nigeria.

We’ve seen in recent years how the global community has come a long way in almost making polio the second infectious disease (after smallpox) to be eradicated. Without a doubt, Rotary International has been a major partner and funder on this journey. I am part of the Rotary International family and was the president of the Rotaract Club at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University College of Medicine, Nnewi, southeast Nigeria. Rotary International launched a global polio vaccination campaign in 1985.

Three years later, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was established. At that time, polio paralysed more than 1000 children globally daily. Since then, more than 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio. Consequently, global incidence of polio cases has decreased by 99%. Currently, wild poliovirus continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nigeria interrupted polio transmission in 2019.

Even in the face of dwindling resources and competing demands, the push for the total eradication of polio must continue because as long as even a few people have polio, it could spread widely again. The final five-year push to eradicate polio would cost an estimated less than $1 billion per year.

Like Adeyanju, Gates, and others, I want to see polio completely eradicated. These are four areas where those $5 billion funds could make that possible.

First, polio vaccine is needed to vaccinate all eligible children. To be fully protected for life, children need four doses of polio vaccines. Polio vaccines come in two forms – oral and injectable. Based on UNICEF estimates, cost per fully vaccinated child is $0.42 for oral polio vaccine. In contrast, it is $2.78 for an injectable polio vaccine.

Second, polio surveillance is a continuous process necessary for prevention and detection of the virus. The polio virus is passed out in stool. That’s why polio transmission is faeco-oral.

This makes polio transmission common in communities with poor sanitation and widespread public stooling. Surveillance activities involve collecting and screening stools of children who have quick onset paralysis after episodes of fever. Further, environmental surveillance of polio involves collecting and testing sewage water for the polio virus.

Third, vaccine storage via modern cold chain equipment. Maintaining the right cold chain for vaccines requires constant electricity, which is lacking across communities in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, only 48% of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

Therefore, clean renewable energy such as solar is a sustainable way to provide the right cold chain for vaccines. Across African countries, some primary health centers already use solar freezers for vaccine storage. Solar freezers don’t come cheap. A Solar Direct Drive Freezer sold on the African Union’s “Africa Medical Supplies Platform” costs $5,797.56.

Lastly, public health education is imperative to achieve equity in complete polio eradication and to continue to see successful vaccination campaigns in countries without polio. Indeed, the University of Global Health Equity, Rwanda captures this succinctly, “to achieve equity in healthcare, depends on equity in health education”.

Polio education is delivered in communities using community health workers, community leaders and community based organisations. Other means include use of radio, TV, print media and electronic media. More polio education should be delivered via social media. Adeyanju has made polio topical among youths on social media by following his heart and pursuing his dream

Adeyanju’s bold ride from London to Lagos has put polio on the front burners of international discourse, especially in these times of covidization of everything.

Through his action, he has answered in the affirmative Rotary International’s four-way test of what people say, think or do:

Is it the truth? – Yes

Is it fair to all concerned? – Yes

Will it build good will and better friendships? – Yes

Will it be beneficial to all concerned? – Yes

Thank you, Kunle Adeyanju. Your boldness will save lives and stop children from being paralysed. You are a hero.

 

Dr. Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor is a graduate of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University.

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