In 2012, more than half of the world's polio cases occurred in Nigeria. Just three years later, the situation in the West African nation looks a whole lot brighter.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced last week that it has officially removed Nigeria from its "polio-endemic" list. This marks the first time that a full 12 months have passed without a single polio case reported in the country.
"Stopping polio in Nigeria has been a clear example that political engagement, strong partnerships and community engagement are the engines that drive the momentum of public health programs, enabling them to achieve great things," said WHO Regional Director of Africa Matshidiso Moeti, PhD, in a press release. "I would like to congratulate everyone, particularly political, religious and community leaders in Nigeria and across Africa, for reaching a year without cases of wild polio."
Polio is a powerful virus that can be transmitted through fecal matter, and contaminated food and water. The virus attacks the nervous system, resulting in pain in the limbs, vomiting, diarrhea, exhaustion, stiffness and— in extreme cases — paralysis. The only way to prevent polio is through vaccination.
Since 2102, volunteer-based vaccination drives (consisting of about 200,000 volunteers) have vaccinated more than 45 million Nigerian children under the age of 5. According to WHO, this effort has been pivotal in reducing polio cases in the country.
Since July 2014, Nigeria has reported zero cases of polio.
Donors and organizations such as Unicef, which work to eradicate poverty and spur health initiatives, also contributed to Nigeria's success.
Nigeria will achieve official polio-free status after three years without the virus, WHO reports. But this goal means continuing vaccination drives and other community initiatives.
“We Nigerians are proud today," said Ado Muhammad, the executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency of Nigeria, in a press release. "With local innovation and national persistence, we have beaten polio. We know our vigilance and efforts must continue in order to keep Nigeria polio-free."
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the two remaining countries on WHO's polio-endemic list. The eradication of polio globally now depends primarily on stopping the disease in these countries.