When India was declared polio-free in 2014, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) entire Southeast Asia Region – comprised of 11 countries – was declared polio-free, a major milestone for global public health; however, the disease that can paralyze and even kill its victims still exists in parts of the world.
Dr. Hamid Jafari, WHO’s Director for Global Polio Eradication and Research addressed Rotary members at Rotary’s International Convention in São Paulo, Brazil on June 8. Jafari updated the audience with the current status on global polio eradication efforts.
“Though Nigeria has seen no new cases since last July, we cannot be complacent. We must maintain the momentum,” said Jafari. “In 2015 we’ve had no cases of wild poliovirus reported across the entire African continent. Today we are much, much closer to completing polio eradication. ”
July 24th would mark one year since the last case of wild poliovirus was detected in Nigeria-the longest the country has ever gone without a case of polio and a critical step on the path toward a polio-free Africa. If WHO removes Nigeria from its list of polio-endemic countries, only two polio-endemic countries would remain: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite this progress, Jafari cautions the next two years will be critical to ensuring Nigeria remains on track to achieve polio-free certification. The support of donors, governments and partners like Rotary is needed more than ever to ensure high-quality polio campaigns in Nigeria, particularly in remote and underserved areas, and to prevent the disease’s return.
“In the first half of this year we have seen a much lower number of cases than we had seen at this time last year. We are facing challenges in Pakistan, but we are learning to overcome them every day,” said Jafari. “In 2014, 85 percent of polio cases across the entire world were in Pakistan and now the country has reported a reduction of polio cases of nearly 70 percent in 2015.”
Like Nigeria, the two remaining polio-endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have faced security threats which provided challenges to polio eradication within their borders. However, Pakistan has seen recent progress.
“With Rotary, we made tremendous progress last year. We must keep going to end polio,” said Jafari. “If the world’s commitment to polio eradication remains strong, we will soon see a polio-free world.”