President Muhammadu Buhari declared yesterday that he was optimistic of African countries defeating the COVID-19 the same way it eradicated the Wild Polio Virus from the continent.
He spoke 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.
Buhari said, “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, personal fulfilment of that pledge to not only Nigerians but to all Africans.
“At a time when the global community is battling the CO- VID-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”.
A statement by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, also quoted President Buhari as saying Nigeria used data systems, community engagement and innovative technology to monitor and predict the occurrence of polio outbreaks, adding that these same skills and tools are being used to fight COVID-19 and the multi-country outbreaks of Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Viruses.
President Buhari, who described the achievement as a truly historic moment, commended his South African counterpart and chairman of the Afri- can Union (AU), President Cyril Ramaphosa, under whose leadership Africa crossed the finishing line.
He recalled that the journey to eradicate the virus dates back to 1996 when Nelson Mande- la of blessed memory launched the Kick Polio out of Africa campaign.
The Nigerian leader also congratulated Dr Matshidiso Moeti and the WHO Regional committee for Africa on their untiring efforts, contributions and leadership towards polio eradication in Africa.
He said, “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.
“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 further commended the decades of hard work and resilience of health workers and volunteers across the region, ministers of Health and other stakeholders such as political, traditional, religious and community leaders who provided the required support and leadership.
He noted: “I would also like to appreciate the invaluable support of our donors, development and local partners such as WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, GAVI, USAID, European Union, Emeka Offor Foundation, the Japanese and German Governments, numerous 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”.
Stressing the need to sustain vaccination of children in Africa, the president urged African governments to continue investments in the health sector because ‘‘healthy populations create wealthy nations.’’
In his remarks, chairman, Aliko Dangote Foundation and Africa’s foremost philanthropist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, urged governments across Africa to increase their budget allocations to the healthcare sector, to help ensure improved basic healthcare for the people.
Dangote expressed deep satisfaction with the final eradication of wild polio in Nigeria, and by extension Africa, after years of hard work and collaboration among stakeholders.
Dangote, who played a major role through his Foundation in the eradication of Polio in Nigeria, said, “I want to commend our African leaders, especially my own President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria for his leadership. All levels of government have successfully come together to make this day possible.”
In another development, President Buhari yesterday assured Nigerians and the international community that his administration will use the remaining years in office to improve access to quality education, health care and enhance productivity while listing nine priority areas.
The president who gave the assurance while receiving letters of credence from Ambassadors/High Commissioners of eight countries at the presidential villa said efforts were being made to sustain Nigeria’s position as a profitable investment destination with unequalled incentives in all sectors, especially large market and a flexible tax system which investors from various countries can take advantage of.
The Ambassadors/High Commissioners who presented their Letters of Credence are Hocine Latil of Algeria; Luong Quoc Thinh of Vietnam; Dr Benson Alfred Bana of Tanzania; Traore Kalilou of Cote d’Ivoire; Aba- kar Saleh Chahaimi of Chad; Jamal Mohammed Barrow of Somalia; Brahim Salem El Mami Buseif of Sahrawi Arab Republic and Mohammed Alibak of Iran.
Buhari told the diplomats about Nigeria’s priority, and the need to streamline on people-focused policies.
He said, “In our efforts to achieve a realistic domestic and foreign policy, as well as national development, we have identified the following nine priority areas to guide our policy directions over the next few years.
“ Build a thriving and sustainable economy; Enhance social inclusion and reduce poverty; Enlarge agricultural output for food security and export; Attain energy sufficiency in power and petroleum products and expand transport and other infrastructural development.
“Expand business growth, entrepreneurship and industrialization; Expand access to quality education, affordable healthcare and productivity of Nigerians; Build a system to fight corruption, improve governance and create social cohesion; and improve security for all.’’
The president urged the diplomats to use the opportunity of working in the country to improve relations with their governments and people.
“I have no doubt that you might have prior and in-depth knowledge of Nigeria’s huge potential which you will hopefully see for yourselves.
I, therefore, urge you to go around the country, see things for yourselves and report to your home governments. This is important as you all are representatives of both your sending and host states”, he added.
President Buhari said Nigeria will remain steadfast in pursuing deeper and valuable relations among nations without discrimination.
He continued: “Nigeria strongly supports joint action to ensure a democratic and fair world order based on strict respect for the norms of international law, the United Nations Charter, recognition of the unquestionable value of cultural diversity, national sovereignty, and the right of all countries to decide their future freely, without external pressure.
“These include our cooperation in strengthening regional, continental and global peace and security, resolving complex issues, settling conflicts, as well as addressing dangerous threats to mankind, among which include terrorism, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, human trafficking, cybercrimes, poverty, communicable diseases and epidemics.’’
Speaking on behalf of the Ambassadors/High Commissioners, the Ambassador of Algeria to Nigeria said each of the diplomats brings greetings and agenda from their home governments, but the bottom line remains to enhance cooperation and seek advancement in mutual areas of interest.
“On behalf of my colleagues, we thank you for receiving us. We know that your schedule is tight. As the giant of Africa, you are always focused on resolving conflicts in the continent, while taking care of your domestic issues as well,’’ Latil stated.
The Algerian ambassador said the African ambassadors will leverage the opportunity to further enhance implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and learn from each other.
Nigeria receives Certification As WHO Declares Africa Poliovirus-free.
ARCC chairperson, Prof Rose Fomban Leke, said the ARCC’s decision came after an exhaustive, decades-long process of documentation and analysis of polio surveillance, immunisation and laboratory capacity of the region’s 47 member states, which included conducting field verification visits to each country.
In 1996, African Heads of State committed to eradicating polio during the Thirty-Second Ordinary Session of the Organization of African Unity in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
At the time, polio was paralysing an estimated 75,000 children annually on the African continent.
The last case of wild poliovirus in the region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria.
ARCC said since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180 000 lives.
But declaring Africa free of the disease, WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said, “This is a momentous milestone for Africa. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio.
“This historic achievement was only possible thanks to the leadership and commitment of governments, communities, global polio eradication partners and philanthropists. I pay special tribute to the frontline health workers and vaccinators, some of whom lost their lives, for this noble cause.
“However, we must stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus and address the continued threat of the vaccine-derived polio”.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF yesterday congratulated Nigeria on being declared free of the wild poliovirus, stressing that achieving the milestone was not the end of the job.
They said all children under five years must continue to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
This, the organisations, said was critical to significantly reduce avoidable mortality in Nigerian children under five-year-old, keep polio permanently out of the country, and ensure better health and wellbeing for future generations.
WHO’s Nigeria country representative, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulumbo, said, “WHO rejoices with the people and government of Nigeria and acknowledges that wild polio-free certification is undoubtedly the greatest public health triumph in the annals of Nigeria and indeed Africa that will bequeath to posterity lessons learnt and best practices for addressing future public health interventions.”
Both UN agencies expressed strong appreciation for the role played by all stakeholders, especially the commitment and support of the Nigerian government at all levels, development partners, donors, traditional and community leaders, health workers and caregivers.
“This milestone is a clarion call to urgently rededicate resources to stopping the transmission of all types of poliovirus, strengthening routine immunization to sustain the gains achieved – especially in high-risk areas and traditional polio sanctuaries and maintaining high-quality surveillance,’’ Mulumbo said.
“It is a momentous achievement that calls for a celebration. This historic achievement not only signifies the end of the wild poliovirus across the entire African continent but is also a significant springboard towards attaining global polio eradication”, UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, added.
The UN agencies pledged to continue to support Nigeria to strengthen its primary healthcare system under the Primary Health Care Under One Roof (PHCUR) policy initiated by the federal government, including the goal to have at least one functional primary health- care centre (PHC) in every ward in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), disclosed yesterday that it received about 40 applications for the approval of herbal formulations for the treatment of COVID-19 from researchers in the country.
Speaking during an online news conference, director-general of NAFDAC, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, said that the 40 herbal formulations were currently undergoing review to ensure their safety for use.
According to her, if not well researched, herbal medicine could kill fast.
She said, “In March 2019, we inaugurated the Nigerian Herbal Medicine Product Committee (HMPC) to bridge the gap often created between traditional medicine practitioners and researchers.
“COVID-19 pandemic created an opportunity and we have been encouraging traditional medicine practitioner to submit their herbal formulations for evaluation. We also developed guidelines on how to register herbal medicine online and the labelling of the product.
“Prof. Maurice Iwu’s application for approval of herbal medicine for the management of COVID-19 is also part of the 40 applications we are reviewing for safety. We use animals for safety test to ensure the formulation will not kill anybody”.
Noting that there was no cure for COVID-19 yet, Adeyeye warned that any claim of cure must be subjected to clinical trials following an approved clinical trial protocol.
She stated: “Until a clinical trial is
done in a scientific manner, no herbal medicine manufacturer can claim cure or effectiveness to treat COVID-19 associated symptoms.
“I believe that Nigeria’s herbal medicines may be able to cure COVID-19. “They have a lot of potentials and it is time to translate the research of herbs into products of proven safety and efficacy, for the benefit of our people.” The NAFDAC DG also revealed that reliable researches show that chloroquine can kill COVID-19 virus at its early stage.
Adeyeye said that remdesivir, a product of Gilead Sciences Inc, had been shown to kill the virus at late stages.
According to her, it is now understood that not only one drug that can be effective for COVID-19 but it depends on the stage and the phases of the disease.
She, however, noted the cost for treating COVID 19 patients with chloroquine was way cheaper than remdesivir as remdesivir cost $2,500 to treat an average patient, while chloroquine only cost $10.
She stated: “Remember, remdesivir and chloroquine work in the cells. Chloroquine was proven to work in 100 patients. We did not know at that time that the disease has about four phases pre-exposure stage, early stage, mild stage, and the severe stage.
“In the cells, in the lab, remdesivir and chloroquine killed COVID-19. At what stage would they be more effective? We didn’t know at that point. Now we are realising that chloroquine is effective at the early stage.
“I was watching CNN about 4 or 5 days ago, and there is this surgeon – Sanjay Gupta. For the first time, he mentioned that chloroquine can be used prophylactically.
This is in the US. All the while he had always said it was not effective. Literature is proving it; science cannot lie. We have mixed science with politics and many people are dying across the world.
“Now we are talking of remdesivir. We met with Gilead – the maker of remdesivir about two months ago and they came. They said they have licensed their drug to five Indian companies and one Pakistani company. To treat an average patient will cost about $10 with chloroquine and cost about $2,500 with remdesivir.
“When we now got the profile of remdesivir, what was recorded in literature and from the manuf- acturer was that remdesivir doesn’t work at the early stage. It works at the late stage. But when viruses are in the tube in the laboratory, you won’t know which is late or which is early. Both killed them. We are now understanding that it is not only one drug that can be effective for COVID-19 but it depends on the stage and the phases of the disease.
“Let me tell you about chloroquine again in terms of West Africa. West African Health Organisation (WAHO) is stationed in Burkina Faso and the Director-General said that they heard (in early or late March), that several people that had a covid-19 infection in Senegal recovered using chloroquine.”
Adeyeye further stated that some African countries like Ghana, Togo and Senegal were using chloroquine for a clinical trial.
“It will be a very interesting study to see the death rate relative to the population, and to find out what were they using because if something is effective prophylactically, it means that disease will not progress. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out,” she added.