Africa is on the verge of being declared polio-free after three years without any recorded cases of the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in August 2019 that Nigeria had marked three years without a wild polio case, calling it a “major milestone.” If no more cases emerge in the next few months, Africa could officially be declared polio-free in 2020. The last case was recorded in Borno state in August 2016.
North and South America eliminated polio more than 20 years ago. The disease has killed and disabled hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, told The Guardian, “We are confident that soon we will be trumpeting the certification that countries have, once and for all, kicked polio out of Africa.”
Nigeria has been one of the last regions in the world with polio cases. In 2012, 200 children in Nigeria had polio — more than half of all global cases. The extremist group Boko Haram was blamed for the polio cases in the northeast part of the country because it had kept health workers from vaccinating children there. The group now controls much less territory.
In 2015, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari publicly gave one of his grandchildren polio vaccine drops, announcing that his administration would do “all within its powers to ensure that no Nigerian child is ever infected with polio again.”
For Africa to be certified as polio-free, a team of independent experts will have to assess surveillance systems across the continent, making sure no cases are missed and that there are no gaps in monitoring.
The virus still is found in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those countries will need to eradicate it before the world is declared polio-free.