Nigeria marked three years free of endemic wild polio on Wednesday, with health officials saying the nation’s progress in fighting the crippling viral disease could result in the whole of Africa being declared polio-free early next year, report agencies.
The three-year milestone sets in motion a continent-wide process to ensure that all 47 countries of the World Health Organization’s African region have eradicated the virus, the officials said.
Africa’s last case of wild polio was recorded in Nigeria’s Borno State in August 2016.
“We are confident that soon we will be trumpeting the certification that countries have, once and for all, kicked polio out of Africa,” the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters in a telebriefing.
Faisal Shuaib, who leads Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency cautioned that the milestone was “one which we must delicately manage with cautious euphoria”.
Polio is a viral infection that attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. Children under five are the most vulnerable, but people can be fully protected with preventative vaccines.
To keep the virus at bay and eventually wipe it out altogether, population immunisation coverage rates must be high and constant surveillance is crucial.
Wild polio remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but case numbers worldwide have been reduced largely because of intense national and regional immunisation for babies and children.
At a briefing in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, Clement Peter, the WHO’s country representative, said the next six months would be “most critical” to whether Africa can be declared polio-free.
“As long as polio virus still exists in any part of the world - as it currently does in Afghanistan and Pakistan - all children are at risk. Therefore we must maintain the momentum,” he said.