World Health Organization Reports Nigeria Polio-Free For One Year

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Health Officials in Nigeria and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reported that Nigeria has gone an entire year without a single reported case of Polio. This is especially encouraging considering that just three years ago, in 2012, Polio was diagnosed at a three-year high with more than 100 cases, mostly in Northern Nigeria.

Nearly ten years prior, in 2003, several of the northern states banned the polio vaccine for an entire year out of fear due to rumors, by many state governors and muslim clerics, that alleged the vaccine contained HIV and was being used to sterilize Muslims.

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In 2009, the tide had shifted enough that community leaders had pledged their support for a vaccination campaign. Unfortunately, 2009 was the same time that terror group Boko Haram began their violent insurgency. Health workers were regularly attacked and the spread of misinformation as well as the political instability were attributed as the lead causes of the uptick in polio diagnoses in 2012.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus, which mainly affects children under the age of five. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, and among those, 5%-10% may die from paralysis of vital muscles.

There are only three countries in the world – down from more than 125 in 1988 – where Polio is considered endemic. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, with Nigeria standing out as the most concerning in 2012. Coincidentally, 2012 was also the same year that India had it’s first polio-free year. India was once considered to be the world epicenter for Polio. Since then, India hasn’t had a single reported case and, along with 10 other Asian countries, was declared polio-free in May, 2014.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International have been and are still contributing large amounts of money in an effort to make Polio the second human infectious disease, after small pox, to be eradicated by a vaccination campaign.

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As a result of the Gates Foundation and other world-wide campaigns, Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases then, to 416 reported cases in 2013.

“Community health workers and community leaders in Nigeria were significant to turning around the difficult situation. There are traditional leaders in Nigeria who command enormous influence and respect. They formed a platform to make sure vaccination was accessible to all children and that made an enormous difference, because in many communities they are the people you listen to,” WHO spokesperson, Sona Bari, told IFLScience.

Due to the security risks, local leaders had to organize in new and creative ways to penetrate the myths surrounding the vaccine. Through their efforts, they were able to reach communities and children who were not previously on the map, much less receiving any kind of significant medical treatment.

Through considering the needs and desires of the community, the leaders were able to engage in trust-building exercises and community engagement, which resulted in health camps that were able to administer the vaccine along with a host of other medical benefits to the tens of thousands of previously untouched communities.

According to Bari, “We are on track for the world to be polio free by 2018. If Africa can stay on track, then I think Pakistan and Afghanistan will follow closely.”

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