Friday, August 19, 2016

Full Response to TVC News Enquiry

The inability of the health authorities to move polio vaccines to Boko Haram strongholds in the North-east, and the compromised immune system of malnourished children in the region, have been fingered as key reasons for the re-emergence of the wild polio virus, setting the country several years back in the eradication of the dreaded disease. 

To start with the word fingered has no business in this statement which first appearsd in the article by Martins Ijeh on ThisDay Online.

Let me then go on to say that this is not a set back, it is a wake up call.

Internally displaced persons are individuals who have been forced from their homes but remain within a nation. The risks to idps include high mortality rate, high risk of disease especially due to malnutrition, lack of international support and grossly inadequate local understanding and support

Today the state of the economy means we not only have internally displaced but also intranally displaced persons! Those who are locked in in their own homes and dying from hunger. A woman was reported to have fed her children with sleeping pills in the absence of food which led to the death of all the children, why is media media not reporting that.

There are only two notable reports online on this issue the one by Leslie Roberts in Science Magazine on August 15 which appears like the West is more interested in this than our nation and the one by Martins Ifijeh in This Day on August 18 which at best reads like an op-ed devoid of adequate investigation.

The Cases

A boy and a girl presented with paralysis... Like all organs, the brain needs a constant supply of blood that contains oxygen and adequate nutrients to function properly. Where this is not the case, paralysis may occur. Paralysis may also occur where nerve fibres in the spinal cord become damaged... So we must understand that there are other causes of paralysis which includes paediatric stroke, head injury, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord disease. 

Aisha the girl in the first paralysis case discovered in Muna Garage IDP Camp in Jere LGA on July 6 is now said to be walking without a limp while the case of the 12-month old boy discovered July 13 in Gwoza District close to Chibok is still being investigated... The girl who is said to have been previously immunised has led to the question of whether the vaccine she received was impotent. If so, we need to research whether all vaccines given in the area at the time were impotent? If they were why? Were they delivered impotent or they were not properly preserved? What are the implications of reimmunising children who received potent vaccines?! Answers would help those directly involved to plan.

Resist Panic

We must resist the force towards panic which now seems to be the order of the day... The journalist who wrote the story interviewed no one and did not even go to the IDP camp. Was his article an opinion or a fact? How come our Health Minister is already taking responsibility and putting forward a statement without thorough investigation....

Is this another ploy by the West to have us sign fresh contracts with WHO, with UNICEF... I am not saying this is not polio and I am not saying it is. But a journalist who sat in his office to write an op-ed should not be a reason for panic but a wake up call, inquiry should immediately be launched and steps should be taken in the right direction.

Thorough Investigation

What I read from one source is that both viruses are closely related to one last seen in 2011 in Borno. CDC scientists are said to have taken viral isolates from the two cases but do we have the feedback? Where are our own scientists? They should be speaking to the government and the government should be speaking to us? 

Inquiry should include the following:

Are those in the camps eating well and living well?
Do they have adequate updated public health information?
Are Nigerians everywhere, locally and internationally, supporting the running of the camps?
What is the government doing to decongest or relocate the camp?
What is the government doing to ensure those there spend the shortest time possible at the camp because a simple cough can lead to an outbreak in any densely populated area if not quickly nipped in the bud?
Are campaigns meticulously executed?
Are vaccines checked for potency or do we end up importing near expired ones?
Are the vaccines issued the one used, or are they swapped at any point in the delivery chain?
Are folks involved with importation of vaccines and related medications people of integrity?
Do we monitor every vaccinator and other related health workers to ensure they deliver?
Do we do follow up in areas vaccination have been done?
Do we collect and archive real-time data from one vaccination round to enable us plan the next?
Are religious, community and traditional leaders engaged as positive thought influencers in the campaign? 

The Good News (as reported)

As widely reported, and hopefully the case, we have reasons to be glad that the Federal Government has taken steps to nip things in the bud. Hopefully emergency actions taken are interventions in the right direction.

  • Emergency polio immunisation campaign has resumed and is expected to reach 1M children under 5. The campaign is led by the Federal Ministry of Health. 
  • Military wins in previous terror zones mean vaccinators, medical researchers and investigative journalists can now reach no go areas.
  • Helicopters are flying vaccine into previously hard-to-access areas like Gwoza.
  • Eighteen (18) teams of vaccinators are now working in Muna camp to ensure all of the 5,000 children under five years are immunised.
  • A second campaign is scheduled to launch 27 August across four northern states, with the goal of reaching 4M children under 5. 
  • Neighbouring countries are set to launch  campaigns. 
  • Teams are searching for more polio cases in Jere and Gwoza.
Going Forward

Mohammed Alli Pate former Minister of State for Health who previously headed polio eradication effort is now an Adjunct Professor at Duke University's Global Health Institute in North Carolina, who took over from him? According to him, the presidential task force on polio eradication he previously chair hasn’t convened in a year. Yet, funds (over 12B Naira) have been budgeted for immunisation by this government to sustain our status as a polio free nation but there has been zero release of funds. Plan should be underway for convenance.We must understand that there is no cure for polio so while praying there would be no more alarming discoveries, doctors delegated to IDPs can be trained to proactively treat the symptoms while the infection runs its course. 

I will re-echo the words of WHO’s Michael Zaffran, “I personally believe we can still interrupt transmission worldwide in 2016, and we are certainly doing everything possible to do so.”

Nigeria has the capacity and capability to solve our own problems; we did with ebola! We must understand that the process of remaining free from any disease or challenge is a continuous one, we cannot drop the ball. We cannot assume that polio eradication means disappearance so we must remain committed. As corruption is fighting, we must fight back; in the same token as the polio virus is fighting to survive, we must be committed to its extinction. Our leaders and the citizens cannot afford to be complacent, we must remain diligent.

We must understand that change is a process, not a party! 

From the Desk of Dr. Omolola Omoteso

Excerpts from above first appeared in conversation with Blessing and Niyi on TVC News

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