Polio Returns to Nigeria for the First Time in Years:
Two children have been diagnosed with polio paralysis in Nigeria. It’s a major setback to the international effort to eradicate the disease, which health authorities thought they had sequestered into only Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The news was announced by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday, a day that would otherwise have marked the two-year anniversary of Africa’s last case of polio. If Thursday had come and gone without any cases being discovered, that would have triggered a 12-month countdown to the entire continent’s being certified free of polio, a crucial step in the almost 30-year battle to wipe the disease from the world.
“This is a setback, definitely, these two cases that have been detected after two years of what we thought was a Nigeria free from polio,” Michel Zaffran, a physician who is WHO’s director of polio eradication, said in a briefing Friday morning. “This is a true disappointment.”
Before Thursday, only 19 cases of naturally occurring polio had been found in 2016, all in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the international effort by the WHO, CDC, and Rotary International has been concentrating eradication efforts. The partners will now have to mount multiple emergency vaccination campaigns to immunize millions of children in the area where the cases were found: Borno state, Nigeria’s most northeastern province, which shares borders with Niger and Cameroon and is across Lake Chad from Chad.
Zaffran said Friday that there will probably have to be six separate rounds of vaccination covering northern Nigeria and neighboring countries, including Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and the Central African Republic. The first, in Borno, should begin next week, he said.
“This is a major response to what we consider a major threat to the polio eradication initiative,” he said.
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