Poliomyelitis, also polio or infantile paralysis, is an acute infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. It invades the nervous system and can lead to permanent paralysis, and in some cases death, in a matter of hours. Although it chiefly affects children under age 5, it can strike at any age, and since it has no cure, the only way to deal with it is through immunization.
Over the years great progress has been made to eradicate polio, however, there are still countries where transmission has never been blocked, these are the polio-endemic countries and include Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
In recent times African countries such as Angola, Chad and Sudan have seen the disease re-established; and Congo, Kazakhstan, Mali and Nepal have experienced outbreaks due to importation.
Source 1: www.polioeradication.org.
In the fight against polio, Nigeria is a crucial player because:
- It’s the only country where all three serotypes of polio: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3 and the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 2 are being transmitted.
- Northern Nigeria is the source of infection to other parts of the country as well as neighbouring African countries.
In Nigeria those living in poverty are most affected by polio and suffer most from the paralysis that results from the disease, because there’s very little or no provision for those with physical disabilities.
Imagine how difficult it must be for a person with post-polio paralysis or any physical disability to survive in such a system. There is no disabled access in Nigeria!
Over the years Nigeria has achieved remarkable strides in its fight against polio due primarily to the government’s commitment and cooperation with international organisations.
In 2010, only 21 cases of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) were reported in 8 states, compared with 388 cases in 27 states in 2009.
Nigeria has seen a 95% reduction in the number of children paralysed by polio. However, the reported total number of polio cases in Nigeria for 2011 is now four times the number reported last year.
There are several challenges facing eradication efforts in Nigeria. There are constraints in gaining political commitments and maintaining engagement with leaders’ at all necessary levels, and in dealing with the operational realities of trying to reach every child in some of the toughest places in the world. Almost by definition, these areas have weak infrastructure, weak governance, high rates of poverty and illiteracy, and sometimes armed conflict or social unrest.
Conflict can prevent vaccination teams from reaching every child and lead to a decrease in immunisation, providing the opportunity for polio to spread. Health workers may flee or shut down their practices, or funding and resources can be shifted elsewhere. In some cases, there was never much in the way of health infrastructure in the first place. Such areas are much more difficult to operate in and can really compromise access to children. Consequently, health workers need to be very flexible with programs in conflict areas and be able to capitalise on whatever opportunities can be found for access.
Why Should You care?
- Polio eradication and the elimination of other preventable diseases are crucial to ending extreme poverty.
- The re-introduction of polio into non-endemic countries is a very real threat and is already happening. The fight is thus not just that of the endemic countries but that of the entire world.
- Eradicating polio is cheaper than containing it. The incremental net economic benefits of eradication are estimated to be between $40- $50 billion compared to routine immunisation.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) launched in 1988 has made immense progress in achieving its goal to eradicate polio. Since its launch, the number of polio cases has fallen by 99% and about 2.5 billion children have received polio immunisation to date:
Source 4: GPEI ANNUAL REPORT 2010
Often seen as the key to wiping out polio in Africa, Nigeria remains one of the last outposts of polio in the world and is responsible for a majority of outbreaks in other African countries. According to our partners at the WHO, if we can eradicate polio in Africa's most populous state then we stand in good stead to be able to root out the disease in other parts of the continent.
Yes, conflict and other challenges continue to hamper efforts, as tragically illustrated a few weeks ago when a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into the UN's building in Abuja. Nonetheless, the existence of conflict doesn’t mean we can’t achieve eradication – it’s an issue the WHO has been managing since the eradication program started, and we’ve succeeded in eradicating polio from Somalia, Southern Sudan and Cambodia during times of heavy conflict. By and large though the biggest challenge impeding eradication efforts is a funding gap of US$590 million that currently limits the work of the GPEI.
That's why the Global Poverty Project is working with Rotary International, the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build public support needed to close this funding gap, and make the end of polio a reality in both Africa and the rest of the world.
Show your support for a polio free Africa by signing our petition.