On July 24, 2015, Nigeria cured its last known case of polio, meaning the African continent is now entirely free of the disease. According to WHO, “As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. Since then, a concerted effort by all levels of government, civil society, religious leaders and tens of thousands of dedicated health workers have resulted in Nigeria successfully stopping polio.” The organization and others still remain vigilant, as full certification of eradication requires three years of the disease’s absence. However, health workers and vaccinators celebrate around the world as more than a year has passed since the last known case was reported.
While efforts by medical volunteers and government officials may be more obvious, religious leaders in the region also deserve credit for facilitating “the first time that Nigeria has interrupted transmission of wild poliovirus” (WHO). In 2003, some religious figures began to speak out and condemn the polio vaccines, claiming they were a Western conspiracy to transmit HIV to young Muslim girls in order to prevent them from having children. However, following a sharp increase both in Nigeria and the surrounding region of polio diagnoses, the leaders previously in opposition reversed their endeavors and began promoting the vaccines.
Unfortunately, polio is still endemic to the countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until these places are declared cured as well, others with fragile health care infrastructure and government institutions are at risk for re-emergence. Vulnerable countries include Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The next scheduled vaccination activities for the two endemic countries will occur as follows: Afghanistan National Immunization Day, November 29, 2015; and Pakistan Sub-National Immunization Day, December 14, 2015. To see all scheduled vaccination activities from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, visit the interactive calendar.