Today, 24 July 2015 will mark 12 months since the last reported case of polio in Nigeria and this progress is thanks to the hard work of the Nigerian Government, partners, religious and community leaders, and health workers.
Nigeria’s polio-free period, dating from July 24, 2014, is the longest it has gone without recording a case. The hope is that next month the entire African continent will have gone a full year without a polio infection, with the last case recorded in Somalia on August 11, 2014.
A disease that until the 1950’s crippled thousands of people a year in rich and poor nations alike, the poliomyelitis virus attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. It often spreads among young children and in areas with poor sanitation – a factor that gives it freedom in areas of conflict and unrest but its spread can be halted,as has been demonstrated, with comprehensive, population-wide vaccination.
As early as 2012, Nigeria with 122 polio virus cases, had reported the highest number of polio cases globally and the polio epicenter of the world and seemed to be losing the battle against polio. An ‘all-out’ effort was launched, with focused attention, resources and activities on the remaining polio strongholds of the country, particularly the northern states. Special approaches were developed in the security compromised areas, including a focus on reaching the internally displaced populations.
Nigeria still has two more years before it, along with the whole of Africa, can be certified officially polio-free by WHO, but health experts say its achievement bodes well for wiping the disease out. Polio campaigns will need to continue and reach all children in the country several times a year. While there is polio anywhere in this world, every child is at risk. Surveillance needs to become even more sensitive so that no virus will be missed and routine immunization coverage needs to improve significantly, especially in the northern states.
It is still too early to celebrate as it takes three years after the last case for a country to be declared fully polio-free (as opposed to just non-endemic and we have only recorded one year so far. Once the three year milestone has been confirmed, the country will get off the list of areas where the wild polio virus is endemic—and with it, so will the entire African region.
“Today is an important health milestone for Nigerians. But now we call on all Nigerians – health workers, political traditional, religious and community leaders and communities themselves to help us to sustain the gains made towards polio eradication by 2017, when Nigeria will be certified polio-free by WHO. Let us not leave any stone unturned until we achieve this collective goal for our country. Working together we can do better” says Dr. Ado Muhammad, Executive Director of National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA)