At least 26 new cases of wild polio virus have been detected in northern Nigeria. This statistic comes from a joint World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report referenced in several publications (ex. AllAfrica). While the report remains to be found online, the news itself is important (and if any readers have a link to the report, feel free to share via the comments section). Although the report apparently commended Nigeria for achieving a 50 percent decline in incidence in the first quarter of 2013, the fact remains that new polio cases continue to arise in Nigeria. The emergence of these cases is in part attributed to the instability in the region, as the jihadist militant organization ‘Boko Haram’ continues to affect the area. The group, which opposes man-made laws and westernization, has instilled a sense of fear in the community through politically and religiously charged campaigns of violence that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent Nigerians over the past decade. One of the ideas being spread is that vaccination against polio is harmful and could sterilize children. Due to the threat of violence, northern Nigerians may choose to comply with militant ideals. As a result of insurgent activity, a state of emergency was declared in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
Polio has been on the verge of eradication for many years, thanks to well-funded, targeted efforts from the WHO and private organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. However, universal vaccination remains unattained due to instability in some difficult-to-access areas of the world. According to polioeradication.org, there were only 212 total cases in the world last year, with 122 occurring in Nigeria. There are 69 cases in the world to-date, with 26 occurring in Northern Nigeria. The other 43 cases this year were found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Kenya.
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan recently commented on the findings of the report, telling Nigeria’s Premium Times publication: “I’m uncomfortable with the figure, why should Nigeria be among the four countries in the world with polio? We are committed to eradicating polio and we will eradicate it.” Mr. Jonathan went on to admit that the security situation in Northern Nigeria continues to pose a challenge.
Polio is an incurable infectious disease caused by a virus that typically travels between people by fecal-oral transmission, though it can also be passed through an infected person’s sneezes or coughs. The virus, which rapidly invades the nervous system, has the potential to cause significant damage: the virus may cause paralysis in 1 in 200 infections, with a further 5% to 10% of cases resulting in death. Victims die once the muscles required to breathe are immobilized. Although it is entirely preventable with simple oral vaccination, even a single case in an endemic country such as Nigeria, Pakistan, or Afghanistan threatens to allow a massive resurgence of the disease. The WHO warns that this could result in roughly 200,000 new cases each year in 10 countries around the world. The CDC recommends beginning the polio vaccine schedule as early as two months, though the vaccination may still be administered to adolescents and adults who aren’t protected. Public health professionals are optimistic that polio can be eradicated around the world, citing all but a few developing countries as examples. Polio infected tens of thousands of Americans each year in the 1940s and 1950s, but was declared eradicated by 1979, according to the CDC.