We are used to celebrating whatever is brought to our attention by the media, but a more silent milestone deserves our recognition. According to the United Nations, no new cases of polio were detected anywhere across Africa for more than a year – a significant step forward for the global health.
On August 11, the continent rejoiced in the fact that a year has passed since the last African case of polio was identified. Even though the patient was from Somalia, his infection sourced from the chain of an outbreak in Nigeria, the one country where the polio virus had never really died, not even temporarily.
This is the first time in the history of the continent that the one-year milestone was reached. However, experts are still nervous about a possible resurrection of the disease, so much so that even the Global Polio Eradication Initiative announced the cause for celebration under a doubtful title “Is Africa Polio-Free?”
Partly fearing he might jinx it, Dr. Hamid Jafari, the head of the World Health Organization’s initiative, made sure he explained that, in spite of the big success, the outcome might change whenever. Currently, one of the greatest worries is regarding the potentially undetected cases found in regions that are yet to be reached by health workers.
But the progress started in 1988 with the initiative of eradicating polio on a global level is rather visible; compared to the 350,000 children that would remain paralyzed by the virus each year back then, 2014 reports showed than only 359 were still affected annually.
Ever since 2001, the global count of new cases has been below 2,000 annually, which meant the eradication efforts also lowered to about US$1 billion a year. But because the virus has proved a master in crossing borders and infesting other countries, epidemiologists are still frustrated about the new cases found in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
According to Dr Elias Durry, director of WHO’s anti-polio effort in Pakistan, this announcement was subdued for multiple reasons. Even if there are no more cases across the continent, the declaration of being polio-free will only be official in another two years. The WHO policy states that three years need to pass due to the difficult surveillance over the remote villages.
At the same time, Nigeria’s health ministries did not want to mark the milestone with parades so it won’t send the wrong message. A modest tree-planting ceremony attended by the new president, Dr Muhammadu Buhari, was all that happened in honor of the occasion. Polio has not been eradicated, they emphasized. More than ever, vaccination and surveillance efforts must continue.
Image Source: The Nation