The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on 25 September that Nigeria is now polio-free and has been officially removed from the list of countries where polio is endemic. It’s been 14 months since any cases of polio caused by the wild virus have been detected there.
With Nigeria’s historic achievement, polio remains endemic in only two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. That means transmission of the virus has never been stopped there.
Nigeria was the last country in Africa where polio was endemic. The continent celebrated its own first full year without the disease on 11 August. Once three years have passed without a case in WHO’s entire African region, officials will certify polio eradicated there.
“Rotary congratulates Nigeria on its tremendous accomplishment in stopping polio,” says RI President K.R. Ravindran. “On behalf of the entire Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), 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.”
Nigeria’s success is the result of several sustained efforts, including domestic and international financing, the commitment of thousands of health workers, and new strategies that reached children who had not previously been immunized because of a lack of security in the country’s northern states.
Type 2 poliovirus gone for good
In other encouraging news, an independent global health commission officially verified on 21 September that wild poliovirus type 2, one of three strains of the wild virus, has been eradicated worldwide. Although the last type 2 case was detected back in 1999, the confirmation is an important milestone, as Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative prepare to switch from a form of the vaccine that targets all polio types to one that does not protect against type 2.
The announcement by the Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication confirms that only two strains of the wild poliovirus remain. Of those, type 3 wild poliovirus hasn’t been detected in almost three years, and wild poliovirus type 1 is endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Funding increase needed to reach final goal
On 25 September, the GPEI's Polio Oversight Board met to determine the next steps needed to eradicate polio. The group concluded that $1.5 billion in new funding is needed to help Rotary and its partners end polio in the next few years. With Nigeria now polio-free, spending will focus on the most vulnerable children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while continuing to shield millions of children already living in polio-free countries.
“With a fully funded program and global commitment to ending this disease, we have the opportunity to interrupt transmission of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2016, opening the door for certification of a global eradication in 2019,” says Michael K. McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. “With [Rotary members’] continued support, we will soon see our dream of a polio-free world realized.”