August 8, 2018 / 1:39 PM / 7 days ago

Nigeria approves $150 million World Bank loan to fight polio

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria has approved a $150 million loan from the World Bank to help eradicate polio and scale up immunization, Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A woman waits at a polio immunisation health centre, in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, August 29, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

After a global effort to wipe out polio, there were just 22 cases on earth last year, down from 350,000 30 years ago, according to the World Health Organization. But until the disease is fully eradicated there is always a risk it could return, putting children at risk worldwide.

Nigeria was on the verge of eradicating the virus but recorded its first case in two years in 2016.

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It is now one of only three countries left on earth where polio still exists, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, the WHO says. Nigeria has recorded no new cases in 21 months and could be certified polio free by July 2019 if none are found.

The 20-year loan comes with a 1.25 percent interest rate and no payments are due for five years. The funds would be applied in 12 states, mostly in the northern part of Nigeria, some of which have been hit by Boko Haram insurgency.

Adeosun said the World Bank loan would help the government achieve and sustain at least 80 percent oral polio vaccine coverage in every state in Nigeria and improve immunization as part of a global polio eradication effort.

Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told Reuters in March that his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was pushing vaccination against polio in conflict-hit northeast Nigeria and Chad, and has committed $1.6 billion so far in Nigeria, its biggest investment in Africa.

In June, the World Bank approved a total of $2.1 billion in concessionary loans to fund projects in Nigeria.

Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Peter Graff

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