The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that, although Nigeria celebrates news that Poliomyelitis is no longer an endemic in the country, the disease is still prevalent in neighbor Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Poliomyelitis, often called polio, is an infectious disease that spreads from person to person through the consumption of water and food containing human feces. It affects mostly children and can cause lifelong paralysis. Yet, it can be preventable with a vaccine.
Nigeria and Africa as a whole are closer to be officially declared as polio-free, thanks to teamwork between government and non-government health organizations, said the WHO. The nation has also been praised for its use of technology to identify vaccination gaps and its creation of emergency operations centers to tackle outbreaks.
However, as long as Afghanistan and Pakistan remain being the two countries where the disease is prevalent, there is still a threat to children in the continent.
“It’s a great moment for Nigeria,” Dr. Tunji Funsho, chairman of Rotary International’s anti-polio campaign in Nigeria, said in a press release. “We should celebrate, but with a caveat that we should not let our guard down.”
Therefore, Nigeria’s main goal is to remain alert and make sure there is no other case of polio in the next two years, so that the WHO can declare Nigeria a polio-free country.
Last July, Nigeria celebrated its first year without any reported cases of the disease, while just 20 years ago the nation was recording 1,000 polio cases a year, the highest in the world.
Achieving this success was a challenge for Nigeria, since the country had to overcome obstacles like religious extremists who assassinated vaccinated people and rumors that the vaccine was a plot to sterilize Muslims.
In order to stop the polio vaccine boycott, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) launched in 1999 an educative campaign on polio in conjunction with the Organization of Islamic countries (OIC).
There have been 41 cases of polio worldwide in 2015, compared to 200 cases at the same time last year.