Dr. Mohammed Belhocine, WHO Representative in Nigeria (2nd right) receiving the cheque from PDG Biodun Sanwo, National Joint District Treasurer, Rotary International (2nd left)
The WHO Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Mohammed Belhocine has cautioned that if Kano State does not resume immunization against poliomyelitis as soon as possible, the circulation of wild poliovirus (WPV) in the country will get worse. Kano and some other Northern states backed out of the immunization programme in 2003 as a result of controversies surrounding the safety of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). While the other states have resumed the immunization programme, Kano is yet to do so.
Dr. Belhocine regretted that the controversy had caused a major setback to polio eradication efforts in the country and the African Region. He noted that Nigeria, at the end of 2003, became the country with the highest number of wild poliovirus in the world. While there were only 8 states in the country with WPV at the beginning of 2003, the number increased to 29 at the end of the year, and the strain of the WPV in Kano state had been traced to a number of African countries which had been polio free for the past number of years.
Dr. Belhocine was speaking while receiving a cheque of US$250,000 (about =N=33.25 million) donated by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International to WHO for polio eradication activities in Nigeria. Noting that the country must not lag behind in polio eradication, he appealed to Kano State Government to resume the immunization programme. In his words, “we (Polio Partners) need our brothers from Kano to give us the green light. We are ready to help”.
Dr. Belhocine who remarked that more efforts and resources were needed to eradicate polio from the country commended Rotary International, Nigeria for its role in the polio eradication initiative, especially in the areas of advocacy, social mobilization and resource mobilization, and for their constant support even in difficult circumstances. He also expressed gratitude to all Partners for their role in overcoming the OPV controversy in the country.
He then used the opportunity to reiterate the safety and potency of OPV, noting, “it is the only way to prevent our children from paralysis”.
In his remarks, the leader of the Rotary delegation, Past Assistant Governor Busuyi Onabolu, Deputy National Chairman, Nigerian Polioplus Committee said the US$250,000 was the first payment of a grant of about US$1.17 million from the Rotary Foundation to Nigeria for polio eradication activities in the next 12 months.
He gave the assurance that Rotary International was committed to eradication of polio globally and that Nigerian Rotarians would continue to support activities in that direction in the country. He hoped that Nigeria would meet the target date for interruption of transmission of poliovirus as Rotary International celebrates its centenary anniversary next year.
The Rotary Nigerian National Joint District Treasurer, PDG Biodun Sanwo handed over the cheque to the WHO Representative in Nigeria, who assured that the funds would be judiciously used and accounted for.