As Nigeria celebrates news that polio is no longer an endemic in the West African country, Pakistan and its war-battered neighbour Afghanistan remain the only two countries where the disease is prevalent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Nigeria and Africa as a whole are now closer to being certified polio-free. It warned polio remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan and that as long as the disease exists anywhere “it’s a threat to children everywhere”.
Polio which can cause life-long paralysis can be prevented with a simple vaccination.
“It’s a great moment for Nigeria,” Dr. Tunji Funsho, chairman of Rotary International’s anti-polio campaign in Nigeria, told The Associated Press. “We should celebrate but with a caveat that we should not let our guard down.” He attributed the success to teamwork between government and non-governmental health organisations.
Nigeria’s main goal now is maintain vigilance to make sure that Nigeria has no new polio cases in the next two years so that the WHO can declare Nigeria a polio-free country, Dr. Funsho said. “Until that happens we are not out of the woods yet,” he said.
Once stigmatised as the world’s polio epicentre, Nigeria in late July celebrated its first year with no reported case of the crippling disease, having overcome obstacles ranging from religious extremists who assassinated vaccinators to rumours the vaccine was a plot to sterilise Muslims.
Just 20 years ago this West African nation was recording 1,000 polio cases a year ─ the highest in the world.
The last recorded case of a child paralysed by the wild polio virus endemic in Nigeria’s impoverished and mainly Muslim north was on July 24, 2014.