Nigeria has officially been removed from the list of nations where polio is endemic - here's why that's a huge deal.
In 2012, Nigeria accounted for over half of all polio cases in the world. According to a recent report from the Huffington Post, however, the World Health Organization has just declared that the country has been removed from the list of nations where the disease is considered endemic, marking a huge milestone in the greater fight against the disease in Africa.
Nigeria was once thought to be the epicenter of polio cases in the world, producing over 50 percent of the planet’s cases just three short years ago. Not a single new case of the disease has been reported in Nigeria since July of last year, and health officials believe that the spread of the disease may actually be over in the country.
According to Ado Muhammad, the executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, “We Nigerians are proud today. With local innovation and national persistence, we have beaten polio.”
Nigeria was the last country in Africa that had such a big problem with polio, and it will likely be another two years of no additional cases before the World Health Organization can declare the entire continent polio-free. Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the other global epicenters of polio.
The disease affects children under the age of 5, and symptoms begin as just a fever and a cold. If not treated properly and in a timely manner, the disease can cause lifelong paralysis. It is highly contagious, and vaccines are the only way to prevent against a population-wide outbreak.
Vaccinations faced criticism from Nigerian leaders, and as late as 2003 were suspended in fear of Western schemes to sterilize children in the country. Government officials and religious leaders have worked together to ensure that vaccines are safe and administered with equal access, employing more than 200,000 volunteers that immunized over 45 million children under the age of 5.
“Eradicating polio will be one of the greatest achievements in human history,” said a WHO statement. “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.