Only two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – remain endemic to this paralysing disease
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that polio is no longer endemic in Nigeria. This is the first time that Nigeria has interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus, bringing the country and the African region closer than ever to being certified polio-free.
The announcement was made at a meeting of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in New York on September 25, 2015.
The GPEI, the public-private partnership 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. This success is the result of a concerted effort by all levels of government, civil society, religious leaders and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers. More than 200,000 volunteers across the country repeatedly immunised more than 45 million children under the age of five 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.
The interruption of wild poliovirus transmission in Nigeria would have been impossible without the support and commitment of donors and development partners. Their continued support, along with continued domestic funding from Nigeria, will be essential to keep Nigeria and the entire region polio-free.
Polio, which can cause lifelong paralysis, has now been stopped nearly everywhere in the world following a 25-year concerted international effort. Polio 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’s a threat to children everywhere.
Nigeria has made remarkable progress against polio, but continued vigilance is needed to protect these gains and ensure that polio does not return. Immunization and surveillance activities must continue to rapidly detect a potential re-introduction or re-emergence of the virus. After three years have passed without a case of wild poliovirus on the continent, official ‘certification’ of polio eradication will be conducted at the regional level in Africa.
Eradicating polio will be one of the greatest achievements in human history, and have a positive impact on global health for generations to come. Nigeria has brought the world one major step closer to achieving this goal and it’s critical that we seize this opportunity to end polio for good and ensure future generations of children are free from this devastating disease.
Reactions, essentially from the GPEI leadership, have however trailed the landmark development.
Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General (WHO): “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.”
Dr Ado Muhammad, Executive Director (National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Nigeria): “We Nigerians are proud today. With local innovation and national persistence, we have beaten polio. We know our vigilance and efforts must continue in order to keep Nigeria polio-free.”
Dr Matshidiso Moeti (WHO Regional Director for Africa): “Stopping polio in Nigeria has been a clear example that political engagement, strong partnerships and community engagement are the engines that drive the momentum of public health programmes, enabling them to achieve great things. I would like to congratulate everyone, particularly political, religious and community leaders in Nigeria and across Africa, for reaching a year without cases of wild polio.”
Dr Tom Frieden (Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Chairman of the Polio Oversight Board): “This is a clear example of success under very difficult circumstances. It shows we can eradicate polio if proven strategies are fully implemented. Combined with the news of the eradication of type 2 wild polio virus last week, we are moving decisively toward ending a disease that has paralysed tens of millions of children. In this final mile, we must remain committed to providing the resources and the support to the front lines to make this worthy goal a reality.”
K.R. Ravindran (President, Rotary International): “Rotary congratulates Nigeria on its tremendous accomplishment in stopping polio. On behalf of the entire Global Polio Eradication Initiative, we thank volunteers, health workers and parents in communities across Nigeria for their tireless commitment to ensuring every last child is protected against this devastating disease. In the months ahead, their dedication will remain as important as ever, as we work to keep Nigeria polio-free and to eliminate polio from its final strongholds in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Chris Elias, President (Global Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation): “This is a significant milestone for the global polio eradication effort and the health workers, government and religious leaders and partners should be proud of this accomplishment. While the progress in Nigeria should be celebrated, it is also fragile. It is critical that Nigeria goes two more years without a case of polio which will require the support of partners, increased accountability at all levels of the program led by President Buhari, and increased domestic funding commitments.”
Anthony Lake (Executive Director, UNICEF): “The removal of Nigeria from the list of polio-endemic countries is a major victory for Nigeria’s children. It is a testament to the commitment and dedication of the Government of Nigeria, local leaders, and front line workers. And it is proof positive that if we work together in partnership to reach every community and immunize every child, we can finish the job of eradicating this evil disease everywhere, once and for all.”