Polio: WHO Empowers Over 2000 Nigeria’s Health Workers to Stop Virus from Circulation

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The WHO Country Representative (WR), Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, (fourth from left) and representatives of partners at the high table

In response to the upsurge of the circulating variant poliovirus type 2 (cVPVD2) transmission in Nigeria, the World Health Organization (WHO)  has absorbed and strengthened the capacity of 2400  Public health officers to mitigate the transmission of the virus in the country.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of Capacity Building Workshop for cVPVD2 Outbreak Response Surge Staff, WHO Nigeria, in Abuja, the WHO Country Representative (WR), Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, said the training is to strengthen the capabilities of health workers in the country to respond to the surge in the cVPV2 outbreaks.

Dr Mulombo said there is a need to develop a mitigation plan to tackle the cVPVD2) transmission in Nigeria within the shortest possible time.

He said in line with the internal grading of the cVPV2 emergency, the WHO Nigeria office has re-established the Polio Response as a vertical intervention at all levels.

There is a need to orient/ reorient the WHO surge capacity staff and improve their technical capacity on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) guidelines and tools for optimal impact on addressing the outbreak and reducing the risk of Wild Polio Virus (WPV1) importation, he said.

cVPV2 in-country situation

Although Nigeria and the African region were certified as wild polio-free in August 2020, sustaining the feat is threatened by the high burden of cases of the cVPV2, which has resulted in a setback to polio eradication efforts.

As of December 2021, Nigeria had recorded 1028 confirmed cVPV2 from different sources across 31 states, accounting for over 70% of the cases in the African region. Furthermore, Malawi and Mozambique this year notified cases of WPV1 raising great concerns of international importation.

Intensive Coordination 

So far, surveillance indicates are above pre-certification levels with the quality of polio vaccination campaigns improving amidst several challenges and gaps, including over 200 million doses of the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) administered.

Buttressing the importance of the training, WHO Africa Regional Polio Eradication Programme (PEP) Representative, Dr Ndoutabe Modjirom, said the workshop would build the capacity of the frontline workers to ensure that they will handle all the severe outbreaks.

The expected outcome of this training is to strengthen the capacity of frontline workers because we need to have the campaigns of the best quality if we want to stop the circulation of cVPVD2. High quality campaigns will in no measure reduce the risk of international/ cross border spread of the polio virus, hence, easier to handle the situation in other countries, he said.

In his good will message, the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, represented by Chinenye Emelife, said the orientation of the surge staff came at a better time due to the recent cVPVD2 cases affecting some states in the country.

Dr Emelife said considering that the country is in the process of polio transition due to the ramping up of GPEI funding, transferring assets and capacities is critical and necessary to ensure the polio gains and also strengthening of public health surveillance system.

Meanwhile, the Incident Manager, National Polio Emergency Operation Centre (NPEOC), Usman Adamu appreciated polio response staff for ensuring Nigeria is certified WPV free. He noted that the battle is not yet over and the key to eradicating all forms of poliovirus in the country and Africa is for ‘no child to be left behind”

Training rapid response teams

The 5- day workshop was conducted in two batches. The first batch, conducted on (22 to 25 April 2022) had participants from the 17 southern states in Nigeria, while participants for the second batch (23 to 27 May) was drawn from across the northeast and nor central states.   The group contains individuals with the collective public health experience to contribute to local efforts to fight the virus, spearheading work in contact tracing and engagement with the community. At the opening ceremony of the second training, the WR represented by Deputy WR, Dr Alexander

Chimbaru emphasized the importance of quality outbreak response and surveillance for Polio and other vaccine preventable diseases, considering the cVPV2 outbreak in the country.

Following the Regional Directors’ advocacy, GPEI prioritized ten non-endemic countries in Africa to sustain the gains made. Consequently, the WHO country office commenced re-engagement of Polio Staff in a phased manner in September 2021.

To date, 2400 polio surge staff are on the ground from the ward, Local Government Area, state and national levels and are to be sustained for 2022/23 with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GPEI partners.

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