Polio Reappears in War-Torn Northeast Nigeria

Global efforts to eradicate polio have been dealt a blow in recent weeks with reports that new cases of the disease have been found in northeast Nigeria.

On August 11, the Nigerian government confirmed that at least 2 cases of the disease had been identified in the country’s Borno State.

These cases involved two children who had been paralyzed following infection from a ‘wild poliovirus strain’.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that 2 Nigerian children have been paralysed by polio,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

These new polio cases were the first reported in Africa in over two years.

The poliovirus causes a condition in humans called poliomyelitis, which can result in temporary or permanent paralysis. In 1988 there were 350,000 cases of the disease reported globally, however now this number stands at fewer than 100 annual cases.

Following the Nigerian government report, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a new mass-vaccination campaign for the region.

“The overriding priority now is to rapidly immunize all children around the affected area and ensure that no other children succumb to this terrible disease”, said Dr Moeti.

As well, efforts are being made to strengthen disease surveillance systems, in order to prevent the outbreak from spreading to neighbouring countries in the Lake Chad area.

Polio and Peace

The global fight to eradicate polio has been ongoing for more than 30 years, however despite massive success, the disease has proven to be stubbornly resilient – especially in active warzones.

Borno State, in northeast Nigeria, is the location of an ongoing conflict between the government and the ISIS-affiliated terrorist group known as Boko Haram.

This fighting, which has killed thousands of people, has also prevented doctors from immunizing patients within this region. The WHO speculates that this population of non-immune people facilitates the continued active transmission of the polio virus.

Elsewhere in the world, polio survives in other war-torn areas including Afghanistan and Pakistan, where terrorist groups have even gone so far as to directly target doctors administering vaccines.

Taken together with this month’s recent reports from Nigeria, it can be seen that completely eradicating polio has a political and peacekeeping dimension, beyond simply being a mere medical task.
Credit: Michael Cruickshank

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