What exactly is polio?
Polio (poliomyelitis) is a viral disease that typically affects children. The virus is usually transmitted via fecal matter and contaminated water. After entering the body through the mouth, it multiplies in the intestine, and then attacks the spinal cord, causing permanent paralysis and in some cases, death. While there is no cure for the disease, it can be easily prevented with vaccinations.
Polio’s Current Status in Africa
It has now been an entire year since a known case of polio has been recorded in Africa. Indeed, the last case on the continent was in Somalia last year, after an outbreak in the Horn of Africa region that affected hundreds of people. However, the Somali government is hesitant to declare the country as polio-free.
Indeed, Dr. Abdiqani Omar, director general of Somalia’s Health Ministry, commented: “The chance for re-emergence is there, but we will be vigilant.” This is probably due to the fact that health workers have not been able to vaccinate individuals in areas of Somalia controlled by the al-Shabab militant group, or even spread awareness in those areas.
Experts maintain that for polio to be completely eradicated, vaccination campaigns and surveillance over suspected cases are required. Accordingly, Dr. Hamid Jafari, director of a global polio eradication program at the World Health Organization, said: “Surveillance for polio virus has improved considerably. However, in the past we’ve had year-long periods when we thought the polio virus had gone from the Horn of Africa and central Africa, only to find out that we were simply missing transmission because our surveillance systems were not strong enough to spot cases.”
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries left in the world with any known active polio cases.