Health officials announced two new cases of polio after no sign of the virus in Nigeria for more than two years. The West African country stood only a few months away from hitting the three-year mark that would have officially made the entire continent polio-free.
The virus has paralyzed two children in Borno state’s council areas of Gwoza and Jere, Nigeria’s health minister confirmed. Extremist group Boko Haram once inhabited the region in northern Nigeria, and the cases have raised concern among health officials for the need to increase monitoring and health services to the once secluded and still volatile area.
“It has set us back,” said health minister Isaac Adewole. “We are drawing out an emergency plan, and in the next 48 hours, we are dispatching a team there and we are going to start immunization.”
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that mainly affects young children and can only be prevented by immunization. The World Health Organization said it is cooperating with the Nigerian government and other partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to carry out immunization campaigns and strengthen early detection surveillance.
“Reaching these children requires vaccinating populations as they move in and out of inaccessible areas and using local-level groups and organizations, such as religious institutions and community-based organizations, to negotiate access for vaccination teams,” the World Health Organization said in a statement.
Nigeria’s northeast remained largely inaccessible for several years due to Boko Haram’s insurgency. Security officials recently recovered a swath of territory from the terror group, but the areas remain partially sealed off, and people have limited access to modern health care. Last month, the United Nations suspended aid to some of the newly liberated parts of Borno state due to continued sporadic terror attacks. The extremist group ambushed a humanitarian convoy and killed three civilians, including a UNICEF worker.
“We were expecting nutrition and other problems,” Adewole said. “But we did not expect that there would be polio.”
Nigeria’s last polio case occurred in Kano state on July 24, 2014. The two-year period marks the longest the country has ever gone without a case of the virus. It also highlights the global success in eradicating the virus. In 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of the world’s polio cases. This year, only 21 cases have been reported globally, compared to 36 at the same time last year.
— by Onize Ohikere