By Angela Onwuzoo
A Professor of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Calabar, Cross River State, Henrietta Ene-Obong, says there is need for health workers to visit homes in the rural areas to ensure that children receive routine immunisation if Nigeria must sustain her polio-free status.
According to her, the home visit will reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting contacts and overcrowding at the health facilities.
Prof. Ene-Obong disclosed this during an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise, stressing that the country must continue with the polio campaign to avoid going back to where it started.
She said, “Health workers should visit homes in the rural communities to ensure that children do not miss their routine immunisation.
“The nurses should go to where the women are to vaccinate their babies to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Going to where they are reduces contacts and overcrowding at the health facilities.
“The health workers must be well equipped with all the COVID-19 prevention measures so that they will be able to provide the services that are needed.
“Water should be provided at the health centres and in the communities so that women and healthcare workers can wash their hands and maintain good hygiene.”
The World Health Organisation had, on August 25, 2020, declared Nigeria and the African Region free of wild poliovirus after the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission, responsible for certifying the eradication of wild poliovirus in the WHO African Region, made its final decision about the region’s wild poliovirus-free status.
Besides the provision of water supply to maintain hand hygiene, the professor urged the government to make the primary healthcare centres functional, while also appealing to healthcare workers to be up and doing.
The nutritionist further said, “We need to continue with the polio campaign because if we now say because we have been certified free and relent, we may go back to where we started.
“We just have to sustain the campaign, continue encouraging women to take their infants to the health centres to get vaccines for all the diseases and not just for polio.
“We need to sustain routine immunisation. We need to make sure that mothers do the needful. One of the ways of preventing polio is to make sure that they take their children for regular immunisation.
“Women should be empowered to do that by sensitisation and be made to know the importance of immunising their children against polio and other childhood vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Experts say while polio may have been eradicated from Africa, vigilance and surveillance remain essential.
According to WHO, vaccine-derived poliovirus still exists in Africa, with 177 cases identified this year.
This is a rare form of the virus that mutates from the oral polio vaccine and can then spread to under-immunised communities.
WHO identified a number of these cases in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Angola.
Although it is not as deadly as the eradicated wild polio, experts say in rare cases, vaccine-derived polio could lead to paralysis, especially in places with poor sanitation and large numbers of unvaccinated children.