The world is quietly celebrating the fact that Africa has been Polio free for one year. However, the celebrations have been low key because the goal to make Africa Polio free was always temptingly close polio always managed to hit back just like the proverbial phoenix rising from ashes.
The task was not easy, and the result is no fluke. Then officials embarked on an energetic new approach to vaccination and scrutiny in that country and to achieve this, hired thousands of public “mobilizers” to hunt down the unvaccinated. The efforts have borne fruit.
The last case of Polio in Africa was detected in Somalia on August 11th, 2014. The roots of the outbreak have been traced to Nigeria, a country where the virus has never been eradicated. Still the last case in Nigeria was recorded on July 24, 2014.
Never in the past has Africa been polio-free for so long. Still the nervousness can be gauged from the fact that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was cautiously titled, “Is Africa Polio-Free?” The initiative’s World Health Organization director, Dr. Hamid Jafar, called the success very fragile and said that there is always a possibility that there could be an undetected case lurking in some remote part of the continent.
The polio eradication drive began in 1988. At that time, more than 350,000 children were affected by the disease every year. The figure came down to 359 last year. The cases have come down drastically, and the eradication efforts now cost $1 billion annually. However, the virus has an ability to cross borders, and 34 cases have been identified this year all in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the last places where the virus is known to exist. However, the victory is incomplete if the virus remains present in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Usually, Africa is the last places where diseases survive. The last case of smallpox was found in Somalia in 1977. Rinderpest, a centuries-old cattle disease that has killed millions of persons by causing famine was last recorded in Kenya in2001. So Africa will have to wait for another two years before it could be declared Polio free.