After no cases of polio have become apparent in Africa over the past year, the fight to eradicate the debilitating disease has turned to Asia. On Tuesday the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that the focus would now be on Pakistan and Afghanistan after data came to light showing that the 34 new cases of polio reported in 2015 have been in these two countries.
As of recently, the polio endemic was also affecting Nigeria. The poliovirus transmission has now been interrupted in Nigeria and Africa as whole, with no new cases of polio having been reported in the continent for over a year.
“This is extremely encouraging and demonstrates real progress, but we can’t be complacent; we cannot afford that local leaders or governments stop the fight now, we are too close’,” said Dr. Hamid Jafari who leads the world’s Polio Eradication Initiative with WHO.
Despite the good news, the WHO still need to be vigilant and cautious before it can be definitively said that Nigeria is free from the wild polio virus.
It is expected to take a maximum time of eight weeks to analyse the data accumulated since 11th August 2014. It will then take a further three years without any reported cases of polio infection to take place before the country can be declared as polio free.
The poliovirus is a crippling disease which attacks the nervous system, often causing irreversible paralysis. It commonly causes infantile paralysis, invading the nervous systems of children under five years old.
Transmission usually occurs through faecal – oral route, which is one of the reasons why the majority of reported cases are usually from rural or underdeveloped slum areas, where hygiene is often poor and education regarding basic health and cleanliness practices are nonexistent.
With Nigeria now being declared as polio free, the focus has shifted to Asia, with Afghanistan and Pakistan being the countries of concern.
“These countries are the source of the fire and you don’t want it spreading again like it’s done in the past, so they need to finish the job as quickly as possible,” said Oliver Rosenbauer who works on the WHO’s world Polio Eradication Initiative.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan need to step up their vaccination campaigns, although there are many obstacles which are bound to make the process challenging. Mass population migration is a problem as it can be very difficult to contain the spread of the virus to certain regions.
Treatment in slum areas is also a concern and providing vaccines in remote tribal areas where the government has little or no control can be challenging. However Pakistan, who in the past year has run its first polio eradication program, is making progress, with there being an increased number of children vaccinated across the country.
These countries are on the right track in terms of polio eradication. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched in 1988 has reduced global reported cases of polio by 99% but greater effort is still needed to make polio the second human infectious disease to be wiped out after smallpox.