In a bid to get Nigeria certified polio free, six states in the Northern Nigeria and prominent traditional rulers from the region have renewed their commitment to delivering life-saving vaccines to their children through routine immunization, as part of their partnerships with the Dangote Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other developmental partners to get rid of polio from the nation.
To this end, Governors of Sokoto, Borno, Bauchi, Kaduna, Yobe and Kano have signed the extension of an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the partners in Sokoto. The MoU which focuses on primary health care delivery will enable the six states to immunize 80 percent of their target population with routine immunization .
Elsewhere at a separate meeting at the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, the traditional rulers as well as community leaders under the aegis of National Traditional Leaders Committee (NTLC) expressed their readiness to roll out a new strategy to improve demand for Routine Immunization (RI) and ensure the Wild Polio Virus (WPV) is eliminated in Nigeria.
The MoU extension endorsed by the governors, which started in 2015, has contributed to improvements in immunization financing, community engagement and vaccine availability.
The new MoUs will run from 2018 through 2022 and aim to provide routine immunization to prevent common childhood diseases and ensure a polio-free environment. The MoUs also represent the states’ broader ambitions to improve primary health care (PHC).
At the signing ceremony in Sokoto government house, Chairman of the Dangote Foundation, Alhaji Aliko Dangote said: “We are delighted that the Memoranda of Understanding have been extended, reaffirming Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto and Yobe States commitment to the health of their citizens. We will now look forward to seeing this commitment translated into action.”
Dangote promised that he would be ready to further assist the states and urged the states to ensure they execute the MoU to the letter in the interest of the people of the region.
He explained to them how he and Mr. Gates have visited neighbouring Chad Republic in an attempt to ensure cross border transmission of the polio virus is avoided by providing assistance to the government of the country to take the preventive measures.
Commenting on the extension of the MoUs, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, praised the governors for reaffirming their commitment to tackling preventable diseases.
“These commitments will help improve immunization coverage and ultimately the health and well-being of Nigeria’s children so they can achieve their potential and live full, productive lives,” said Gates.
According to him; “By laying a strong foundation for routine immunization, the governors will help strengthen their primary health care systems that are central to improving the overall health of people in these communities.“
Each of the governors explained how they were able to meet their obligations with respect to funding and coverage of routine immunization as spelt out in the MoU, with Kaduna state government, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai signing expressing of intent to be part of the agreement.
Meanwhile, National Traditional Leaders Committee (NTLC) also pledged its commitment to improve healthcare for children who are at risk of contracting the polio virus as this will improve overall family health and development in the country.
The NTLC which comprised largely of traditional leaders in northern Nigeria, including polio endemic states – made the renewed commitments during a High-Level Meeting in Sokoto with Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chairman of the Aliko Dangote Foundation.
During the meeting, the leaders agreed to continue to play a crucial role in improving demands for Routine Immunization. They called on the Nigerian government to continue its support in the fight against polio.
The Community leaders noted that progress is being made in the fight against polio as there have been no reported new cases in Nigeria for over a year but lamented that there are still settlements and children that are unable to be reached with the polio vaccine in the security compromised areas of the north.
In addition, the leaders acknowledged Nigeria low immunization coverage rate due to a range of factors, including weak delivery systems, inadequate financing and health worker training, as well as poor demand from communities for immunization.
To address this gap, the leaders agreed a new strategy would be adopted and intensified throughout the northern states to increase demand for lifesaving vaccines.
The new strategy will strengthen the links between health facilities and the community through traditional institutions. This will help drive demand for RI through more newborn referrals for immunization and by closely tracking drop-outs or left-outs. This strategy was piloted in Bodinga Local Council Area of Sokoto State in June 2017 and was successful in increasing public demand for vaccines.
Praising the traditional leaders, Dangote said, “Traditional leaders are the lynchpin of Nigerian society. Their commitment to polio eradication and routine immunization will be a crucial factor in increasing public demand for lifesaving vaccines. We look forward to working with the NLTC on this vital mission.”
“We are so close to unlocking the potential of a polio-free Nigeria and traditional leaders have played an instrumental role in this success,” said Gates. “We are pleased that traditional leaders are redoubling their efforts to ensure that every Nigerian child is protected against polio and other preventable diseases.”
Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar said, “The National Traditional Leaders Committee are honoured to be part of the fight against polio. We must continue to encourage routine immunization and vaccination against polio if we are to truly eliminate the scourge of polio from Nigeria once and for all.”