*Commends Dagote, Bill Gates, Emeka Offor
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday in Abuja said African countries could defeat COVID-19 pandemic the same way it overcame the Wild Polio Virus on the continent.
The president made the assertion at the formal certification of the Wild Polio Virus eradication in the African region during the virtual session of the 70th World Health Organisation (WHO) regional committee for Africa in the State House, Abuja.
He praised Bill and Melinda Gates, Aliko Dangote, Emeka Offor,
United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, GAVI, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), European Union (EU), the Japanese and German governments and various non-governmental organisations for their roles in achieving this feat.
Buhari who said eradication of polio in Nigeria was the fulfilment of his promise in 2015 upon assuming office, added that elimination of the virus encouraged him to believe that COVID-19 could also suffer similar fate in Africa.
‘‘I recall that shortly after assuming office in May 2015, I made a pledge to Nigerians that I would not bequeath a polio-endemic country to my successor.
‘‘This certification is, therefore, a personal fulfillment of that pledge to not only Nigerians, but to all Africans.
‘‘At a time when the global community is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, this achievement strengthens my conviction that with the requisite political will, investments and strategies, as well as citizens’ commitment, we will flatten the epidemic curve.
‘‘I can affirm the commitment of all African leaders to this course of action,’’ he said.
A statement by the president’s media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the president assured the global community that Nigeria would sustain the feat and draw lessons learnt from polio eradication to strengthen its health system, especially the primary health care, and also prioritise health security.
Buhari told the meeting that Nigeria used data systems, community engagement and innovative technology to monitor and predict the occurrence of polio outbreaks.
According to him, the same skills and tools used to crush polio are being used to fight COVID-19 and the multi-country outbreaks of Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Viruses.
He described the feat as historic, commending President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Chairman of the African Union, under whose leadership, Africa attained this feat.
The president recalled that Africa’s battle to kick out polio began in 1996 when the late former South African president, Nelson Mandela, launched Kick Polio out of Africa initiative.
He used the occasion to congratulate Dr. Matshidiso Moeti and WHO Regional Committee for Africa on their relentless efforts, contributions and leadership towards polio eradication in Africa.
He added: “We must guard this achievement of the eradication of Wild Polio Virus in Africa jealously and ensure that we take all necessary steps to prevent a resurgence of this dreaded disease.
‘‘This will require maintaining the highest quality of surveillance and sustaining population immunity through increasing routine immunization coverage and supplemental immunization activities.
‘‘It is heartwarming to note how the strong partnership between the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and Governments of African countries worked tirelessly and collaboratively to deliver this success.”
The president commended the decades of hard work and resilience of health workers, ministers of health and stakeholders such as political, traditional, religious and community leaders as well as founders of various foreign and local foundations whom he said provided the required support.
‘‘I would also like to appreciate the invaluable support of our donors, development and local partners such as WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International,
NGOs and faith-based organizations.
‘‘These are truly the heroes and heroines of many battles that have made us triumphant in the war against polio,’’ he said.
The statement said Chairman of Aliko Dangote Foundation and Africa’s foremost philanthropist, Dangote, urged governments across Africa to increase their budget allocations to the healthcare sector to ensure improved basic healthcare for the people.
It also said Dangote expressed deep satisfaction over the final eradication of wild polio in Nigeria, and by extension Africa after years of hard work and collaboration among stakeholders.