Currently, Nigeria is the only country in Africa with wild polio virus. However, on Wednesday, 21st August 2019, the country marked three years since the last documented case of the deadly childhood disease. Consequently, if there are no cases of the wild polio virus infection in the next few months, the entire continent can be certified polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO)-backed Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Reacting to the news, the chairman of Nigeria’s polio committee for Rotary International Dr. Tunji Funsho said,
“It is a big deal for Nigeria, for Africa and for the world. No child has been paralyzed by the wild polio virus in Nigeria. We have been able to reach every child with a vaccine before the virus reaches them. The challenge was in the northeast, particularly in Borno State. However, in the last three years, we have been able to access more than 90 percent of children that we were not able to access in 2016.”
Rotary International has been at the forefront of the fight for polio eradication. Eradicating the disease will be a great milestone. This is because, at the start of the millennium, there were around 20,000 cases every year. The last reservoir of the disease in Nigeria was in Borno State, one of the northeastern states. The presence of the militant group, Boko Haram, made it difficult for health workers to vaccinate children.
Key facts about polio
Poliomyelitis, known simply as polio is a viral infection that affects mostly children. The primary route of infection is the fecal-oral route and less frequently through food and water. After multiplying in the intestine, it unleashes its debilitating effect on the nervous system, often leading to paralysis. As at present, there is no cure, hence, the need for prevention through vaccination.
The rate of global child paralysis from 125 polio-endemic countries in 1988 was as high as 350,000 per year. However, according to the WHO, that figure has dropped by over 99 percent. Following the delisting of Nigeria from polio-endemic countries, there are currently two endemic countries in the world; Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of the global polio cases with 223 victims. The WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan said,
“The outstanding commitment and efforts that got Nigeria off the endemic list must continue, to keep Africa polio-free. We must now support the efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan so they soon join the polio-free world.”
Support for the eradication of the disease in Nigeria
The last case of polio in Nigeria was on 21st August 2016. However, with President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to vaccinate his grandchildren, the skepticism surrounding the vaccine was dispelled. Also, there has been a massive number of volunteers resulting in the vaccination of about 50 million children under the age of 5. However, the director of polio eradication at the Gates Foundation, Jay Wenger believes more work lies ahead.
“Governments across the region must remain vigilant against all forms of polio. It is important that political and financial commitments to eradicating all forms of the virus are redoubled to ensure children across the continent are protected from polio for good.”
The federal government polio eradication initiative through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative also enjoys support from the Aliko Dangote’s foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US government, and UNICEF. The official certification of Africa as polio-free is likely going to be early next year.