#Polio eradication may indeed be in sight: Africa is polio-free for one year today

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More great news on the polio eradication front: today marks one year that the African continent is polio-free. According to the Guardian:
No cases have been identified in Africa since 11 August last year in the Hobyo district of Mudug province in Somalia, meaning that the continent is two years away from being certified polio-free.

But both Somalia and Nigeria, which also saw its last polio case in 2014, are battling Islamist militant groups – al-Shabaab and Boko Haram respectively – raising fears that vaccines will not reach children displaced by conflict.
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Despite the turmoil, Nigeria could soon be removed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from the list of countries where polio is endemic. As recently as 2012 the country had more than half of all the world’s cases, but numbers fell by 92% between 2013 and 2014. Somalia suffered 194 cases of polio in 2013, most of them children, but this was cut to just five in 2014, all in the north-east region of Puntland.

Africa’s progress intensifies pressure for action in the only two other polio-endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there have been 28 and six cases respectively so far this year. Global health experts hope that by 2018 polio will become the second human infectious disease, after smallpox, to be wiped out.
These active Islamist insurgencies are an important asterisk to the good news, as unrest has enormous potential to undo public health progress in a devastatingly short amount of time (as we have seen in Iraq and Syria). It is also important to remember that while wild poliovirus is mostly gone, vaccine-derived poliovirus continues to circulate, so ongoing vaccination campaigns will be critical. Nonetheless, this is enormously encouraging.

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