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Bill Gates Warns Against Resurgence of Polio in Nigeria

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The co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, has said Nigeria must do all within its powers to ensure there’s no resurgence of the wild polio virus in the country.

He said the country should also invest more in primary healthcare; especially in Northern Nigeria where 10 to 15 per cent of children die from preventable diseases before their fifth birthday.

Speaking exclusively with THISDAY in a telephone interview over the weekend, he said although the Nigerian government has considered the option of e-learning for children due to their inability to get classroom education because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only very few children have access to the internet, hence the need for the country to expand internet service in order not to hamper education for the young lads.

He said: “It is a huge achievement that Nigeria has gotten rid of the wild polio virus. It required amazing work. In all the states, health workers went out to deliver vaccines. Aliko Dangote was a huge help to our Foundation also and was very generous in making that happen, just like he is doing with the Coalition against COVID-19 (CACOVID). “We are not done yet. We have a form of the virus called vaccine-derived polio that is in Nigeria and other African countries. We have to do campaigns against that, and we have to make sure that the wild polio virus still existing in two other countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – does not find its way back into Nigeria. Nigeria needs to make sure it has enough immunisations to ward off the resurgence of the virus.

“So, we will, for some years to come, have to keep doing these campaigns; targeting both the vaccine-derived and this wild polio type 1 that is still in those two countries. State governors really need to think about primary healthcare and polio activities. These are key parts of priorities,” he said.

He said despite the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria must put health services back in shape, especially in Northern Nigeria, where 10 to 15 per cent of children of under-five years lose their lives due to poor healthcare and other factors.

Gates said: “So, even if there is a challenge over the next two years due to the pandemic, countries like Nigeria must put health services back in shape particularly in the North where over 10 per cent or in some cases 15 per cent of children die before they clock five years. “This really shouldn’t be the case if investment in primary healthcare is modest enough. This should not be like funding for hospitals where the funding is small and the impact is very high. If we renew commitment to primary healthcare the right way, we will be able to see dramatic improvements, particularly in Nigeria, even if we fall short of the specific SDG goal.”

He also called on the Nigerian government and stakeholders to expand internet access so that children can continue their education through e-learning platforms being adopted by nations due to protocols against COVID-19.

Gates said: “The educational interruption is tragic all over the world, and it will be very hard to catch up on that. For children up to 10 to 12 years, e-learning may not work so well, so classroom learning is still desirable. Even for the kids who are older than that, without the internet with high-quality connections on a large screen, they are still disadvantaged. The phone screen doesn’t work for a lot of e-learning.

“So, in Nigeria, the availability of internet connections for the number of kids who have that type of compatible device is small. Even if we get the content right, which we need to do; and even if we train teachers, which we need to do, the portion of the students that can be reached with e-learning is still pretty small in Nigeria. We need to expand the internet scope for e-learning so that these children won’t be disadvantaged,” he added.

“I do believe in e-learning. I think it’s very important. It should expand, but mostly we need to end this pandemic through the use of the vaccine so that we can mostly go back to normal school activities, and simply where e-learning is an extra compliment for some of the courses, where you can access a teacher who might have an expertise that the local teachers do not have,” he added.

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