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Nigeria has announced a mass polio vaccination campaign in the Northeast, following the confirmation of two polio cases for the first time in two years. The Honourable Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, has confirmed the outbreak of the Wild Polio Virus (WPV) in Borno State. The outbreak has affected two children from the Gwoza and Jere local government areas of the state.

In order for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a country free of polio, it has to go three years without a new case. Therefore, this development is viewed as a major setback for Nigeria, which was on course to be declared polio free in 2017.

Professor Adewole explained that the discovery and confirmation of the polio outbreak was a result of strengthened surveillance, only made possible by successful military action in liberating more communities in the north eastern region. “The overriding priority right now is to rapidly boost immunity in the affected areas to ensure that no more children are affected by this terrible disease,” he said. The Nigerian authorities, along with experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), are currently investigating the situation to find out where the virus has spread.

The immunisation program is expected to kick off as soon as next week and the government plans to immunise over a million children in Borno State and a further four million in neighbouring states.

The disease, primarily spread by poor sanitation and contaminated water, disappeared for two years before re-emerging. This begs the question: why did polio return?

In 2012, Nigeria had more than half of all polio cases worldwide, according to the WHO. The country has since taken big steps to eradicating polio, marking 2 years without a case on the 24th of July, 2016 before this setback. The WHO puts the reduction down to a “concerted effort by all levels of government, civil society, religious leaders and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers.” The organisation also stated that the answer, for now, is to vaccinate all children, and as long as there are unvaccinated children, there will be a good chance of it surviving and spreading.

What is polio? Here are some Key Facts

  • Polio, or poliomyelitis, mainly affects children aged under five.
  • It is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted from person-to-person, spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (for example, contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine.
  • Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pains in the limbs.
  • One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5 percent to 10 percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.
  • Polio cases have decreased by over 99 percent since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 74 reported cases in 2015. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease.
  • Today, only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.

Source: World Health Organization

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