Africa declared polio-free after 25-year push

Nigerian children who have been vaccinated. (WHO photo by T. Moran)
Nigerian children who have been vaccinated. (WHO photo by T. Moran)

The news that the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has certified the nation of Nigeria free from polio means the continent of Africa has conquered the dread disease. This is the first time that Nigeria has interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), the public-private partnership — of which Rotary International is a member —  leading the effort to eradicate polio, called this a “historic achievement” in global health. Nigeria has not reported a case of wild poliovirus since 24 July 2014, and all laboratory data have confirmed a full 12 months have passed without any new cases.

As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. Since then, a concerted effort by all levels of government, civil society, religious leaders and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers have resulted in Nigeria successfully stopping polio. More than 200 000 volunteers across the country repeatedly immunized more than 45 million children under the age of 5 years, to ensure that no child would suffer from this paralysing disease. Innovative approaches, such as increased community involvement and the establishment of Emergency Operations Centres at the national and state level, have also been pivotal to Nigeria’s success.

Polio, which can cause death or  lifelong paralysis, has now been stopped nearly everywhere in the world following a 25-year concerted international effort. It remains endemic in only two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan. The eradication of polio globally now depends primarily on stopping the disease in these countries. As long as polio exists anywhere, it is a threat to children everywhere.


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