Twenty years ago, every single country in Africa was impacted by polio. By 2014, the only African country considered to be polio endemic was Nigeria. Polio eradication has been one of Rotary International’s global health goals for years, and it recently mounted a global campaign to abolish polio by 2018.
Last year, Rotary dedicated $44.7 million toward polio eradication efforts, of which $18.5 million was directed toward ridding Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan of the wild poliovirus. The Gates Foundation, which has committed over $385 million toward eradicating wild polio, recently paired up with Rotary International to mount the final offensive against the disease in the three endemic countries. In this partnership, Gates offered Rotary a 2:1 match of up to $35 million annually for every dollar Rotary committed to polio eradication.
Now, a celebration is officially in order for both organizations: As of August 11, 2015, Africa has reached the one-year milestone without a single confirmed case of wild polio virus. Africa is now on the threshold of being officially declared polio free.
But the fight isn’t over yet.
Nigeria is the only remaining country in Africa to be polio endemic—this is both good news and bad news. On the good news side, Nigeria is the only polio-endemic country across the entire continent. Also, it was just a few years ago that Nigeria was home to over 50 percent of all global cases of wild polio; now the wild polio virus is on the brink of extinction. The bad news is that even though Nigeria hasn’t had a recorded case of polio in over a year, it’s still considered an endemic country. However, Nigeria may just drop from the endemic list once all of the lab samples collected over the past year have been analyzed and the country meets basic disease surveillance standards.
Africa being on the brink of an official polio-free declaration doesn’t just mean a victory in the long battle against polio. The victory, should it be officially declared in the coming months, also means that the country has a blueprint of how to launch large-scale offensives with high potential for success against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and tuberculosis.
That said, the international health and development community is being cautiously optimistic, here, and is calling on African governments and NGOs to remain vigilant and to redouble their efforts. Those efforts include staying committed to the 2001 Abuja Declaration of African nations spending at least 15 percent of their national budgets on public health, and supporting innovation in disease surveillance, infrastructure, and vaccine development and delivery systems.