The World Health Organization (WHO) has long set its eyes on eradicating polio. Beginning in 1988, when it aimed for eradication by 2000, the target has seemed to move constantly. In the current Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), it is hoped that by the end of 2012 all wild poliovirus transmission will have ceased.
Two decades ago, the goal to eradicate the stubborn disease seemed elusive to some, but mostly because among the counties with endemic polio was India, with thousands of cases being recorded and the population racing toward the 1 billion mark. But a year ago, a remarkable thing happened: India, became free of polio, and on January 13, 2013, it marked one full year without a new case being reported. Quite a feat for a country of 1.2 billion people and twice the population density of Nigeria.
The eyes of the world now rests on the only 3 countries that still has endemic polio: Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In Nigeria, significant progress has been made, with the number of cases collapsing by more than 99% from 2009 to 2010. However, claims for the imminent eradication of polio in Nigeria has become a perennial headline news item. The temptation to declare premature victory was tempered by sobering news late last year of a four-fold increase in cases of polio in Nigeria (43 cases in 2011, versus 11 in 2010).
The bump in the road for the polio campaign in Nigeria has been linked to resistance by religious leaders in some parts of the country, who claimed that immunization was a Western plot to make people infertile.
There remains much cause for optimism because, Nigeria’s leaders appear very intent on eliminating the crippling disease. President Goodluck Jonathan has increased the annual polio funding from N2.7 billion to N4.8 billion. Also, the current Minister of State in the Health Ministry, Dr Muhammad Ali Pate, has long been in the trenches fighting to eradicate the disease. On his part, the Health Minister, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, told The ANPA Blog that the administration is focused on full eradication by the end of 2012, and pointed to the recent launch of the Polio-Free Torch Campaign as the final push to ensure this goal is met.