GENEVA — As another World Polio Day comes around, the World Health Organization reports three polio endemic countries— Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — hold the key to the global eradication of this crippling disease.
About one-half million children were becoming paralyzed by polio every year when the World Health Organization began its global polio eradication campaign three decades ago. Today, that number has been reduced by more than 99 percent.
WHO reports fewer than 30 cases of the disease this year, many of them in countries that had been considered polio-free. Spokesman for the Polio Eradication Initiative Oliver Rosenbauer tells VOA outbreaks have occurred in Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Kenya and Papua New Guinea.
“This really, really underscores the risk that we have this disease — that it will continue to reappear, reemerge in areas that have already eradicated this disease. We see this time and again,” said Rosenbauer. “It is not the first time that we are facing new outbreaks again and we are confident, we know what it takes to stop these outbreaks again.”
Rosenbauer says these countries are implementing emergency measures to stop the outbreak. But, he warns the risk of the wild polio virus spreading across borders will continue until the disease is eradicated in the three endemic states of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
“These three countries hold the key to a polio-free world,” said Rosenbauer. “They have been battling this disease so very long, but they are making actually tremendous progress this year. Never before have we seen the disease in these countries at such low levels as we are today, this year.”
Rosenbauer says Afghanistan and Pakistan have each reported six cases of polio.
He says no cases of the paralytic disease have been detected in Nigeria. But that, he says, does not mean there are no new cases of the disease there.
He notes the wild polio virus is present in parts of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, which are under the control of Boko Haram militants. This, he says makes it too dangerous for health workers to conduct disease surveillance to see whether the virus is circulating.