The World Health Organization maintains that it will eradicate polio worldwide, but the disease is beginning to re-emerge in African countries that had previously been polio-free. Will anti-polio campaigners ever manage to eradicate polio?
The current outbreak in Africa is directly traceable to a decision by religious extremists in northern Nigeria to suspended polio vaccinations in 2003.
Shortly after that decision, polio cases in Nigeria began to spike. That was soon followed by cases popping up in nearby countries including Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, and Sudan. All five of those countries had been free of polio until 2003. Along with Nigeria, polio still persisted prior to 2003 in Egypt and Niger.
Polio has since spread to an additional seven African countries that had been free of polio, and the disease could spread further.
Admittedly the number of cases is still very small — Nigeria reported the most cases in Africa in 2004 at 763, but the outbreak of cases in previously polio-free countries is jacking up the costs of immunization. According to Dr. David Heymann, who heads up WHO’s polio eradication program, the resurgence of cases in polio-free countries will add at least $150 million to immunization efforts on the continent.
Health Officials Say They’ll End Polio In Africa, Despite Its Spread. Lawrence Altman, The New York Times, January 16, 2005.