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By Pita Ochai
In its effort to eradicate the dreaded polio in the country, the Federal Government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Japan for a loan facility to be given to Nigeria to fund the project. The loan facility is about $85 million.
Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, Minister of Health, said that the loan aid signifies an important milestone in the fight against polio in Nigeria. He explained that the objective of the project is to optimize the immunization of children less than five years against polio by procuring oral polio vaccines, and contributing to the eradication of polio in the country. He said that the loan aid was part of the international support to the national polio eradication programme to ensure vaccine availability for the polio campaigns from June, 2014, adding that this will guarantee the procurement of the vaccines for polio campaign by UNICEF. He added that it will ensure timely delivery and availability of the polio vaccines for the national polio immunisation campaigns.
Professor Chukwu said that Nigeria had recorded significant achievements in 2013 in the eradication of poliomyelitis with at least 58 percent reduction in the number of Wild Polio Virus1 (WPV1) cases compared to 2012. He noted that there has been a 50 percent reduction in the number of infected Local Government Areas in 2013 compared to 2012 with the geographical restriction of cases to only two local governments in one state out of the 36 states. He said that so far in 2014, only three cases of WPV1 have been recorded compared to 2013, adding that this represents 86 percent reduction in incidence.
Professor Chukwu expressed hope that with the loan aid and the support of other international partners as well as local stakeholders; polio transmission will be interrupted this year. “We shall do all within our powers to ensure that we meet the target of the polio eradication project in Nigeria,” he said.
He thanked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for guaranteeing the buy-down of the loan, noting that the foundation remains a major contributor to the polio eradication effort in Nigeria and indeed globally.
In his keynote address, the Japanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Ryuichi Shoji said that his country’s financial contribution to Nigeria will build a robust bridge for Nigerians and lead to the goal of polio eradication in the country.
He stressed that Japan’s government has been a faithful partner of Nigeria over 14 years and provided assistance in the fight against polio since 2000.
He said, remarkable progress has been made, and Nigeria is in the final stage in the fight against polio.
He observed that when polio is finally eradicated in Nigeria, beneficiaries would not be limited to the people of Nigeria, saying that as long as a single child remains infected; children in all countries are at risk of polio.
He disclosed that World Health Organisation (WHO) certified in March this year that 11 countries in South-East Asia are polio-free after three years without reporting a single new case. He also said that a WHO statement issued in May 2014 indicates that there are still three countries namely Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan that are being plagued by the polio virus.
He said that the global situation concerning polio spread requires an urgent action, stressing that the polio eradication project in Nigeria will constitute an important step towards a world-free polio.
In her goodwill message, the Country Representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Mairo Mandara said that the Foundation has been working with the Japanese partners for many months to extend the loan facility to Nigeria.
She said that the loan is a useful tool for the Federal Government to help improve immunization coverage rates in areas that need additional support to stop transmission. She promised that after Nigeria has executed the loan agreement, the Foundation will commit to repay the loan to Japan with interest on behalf of Nigeria if the required immunization rates are met by Nigeria.