On the brink of eradicating wild polio, the World Health Organisation and the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole has confirmed an outbreak of Wild Polio Virus in Borno State. The discovery dashed the hopes of global health authorities to be able to declare the continent polio-free soon. Nigeria’s last case of Wild Polio Virus was reported in July 2014.
The W.H.O. requires three years with no confirmed cases before declaring a region polio-free.
Polio paralyzes only about one child of every 200 infected, and in dangerous or remote regions, many cases of paralysis are never detected, so health authorities assume the virus is far more widespread than two cases would suggest.
Until yesterday, the last known cases of paralysis caused by “wild” virus were all in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. Interrupting polio transmission in Africa was considered a major public health triumph.
Genetic sequencing of the Nigerian virus suggests that the new cases were caused by a wild strain last detected in Borno State, Nigeria, in 2011, which implies that it circulated for five years without being detected. Raids by Boko Haram, the Islamic fundamentalist militia as well as fighting between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Army have made many areas off limits for vaccinators and surveillance specialists.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has taken over much of the cost of the polio eradication drive from Rotary International, which began it in 1988. The cost has recently been over $1 billion a year.